The fight in Australia leaves Pivac’s future in doubt

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Australia's players celebrate at full time
Australia came from 21 points down to condemn Wales to a ninth defeat in 12 Tests this year
Wales (20) 34
Try: Morgan 2, Faletau, Dyer Cons: Anscombe 4 Pens: Anscombe 2
Australia (13) 39
Try: Fainga’a, Nawaqanatawase 2, Penalty try, Lonergan Cons: Donaldson, Lolesio 2, Pens: Donaldson 2

Wales head coach Wayne Pivac’s position hangs in the balance after his side dropped a win against Australia.

Wales had built a 34-13 lead with Jac Morgan scoring two tries and further scores from Taulupe Faletau and Rio Dyer.

Australia responded with 26 points without reply as they took advantage of yellow cards for Wales captain Justin Tipuric and Ryan Elias.

Defeat could be the end of Pivac.

Australian wing Mark Nawaqanatawase was the catalyst for the Wallaby turnaround with two tries.

There was another goal from Folau Fainga’a, a penalty try and the winning goal from substitute Lachlan Lonergan.

Ospreys full-back Morgan was again a powerful presence as he scored two tries for the second week in a row, but his efforts went in vain.

Wales had improved greatly in the first 60 minutes against a depleted Australia side but could not hold on.

Pivac on the edge

What now for Pivac’s position as manager after three defeats in the autumn and a solitary win against Argentina?

With just three wins in 12 games this year and early defeats at home to Italy and Georgia, his role remains under intense scrutiny.

Pivac will do well to survive this capitulation against Australia.

The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) will conduct a review of the autumn campaign, although Pivac is due to fly to France on Sunday to finalize preparations for next year’s World Cup.

Former coach Warren Gatland was watching Australia’s defeat from the Principality Stadium in his television commentary role.

He has been tipped to return to an interim role if a vacancy arises, but has insisted the WRU has not been contacted so far.

Pivac took over from his fellow New Zealander after the 2019 World Cup, a year in which Wales had won the Grand Slam, were ranked number one in the world and finished fourth at the world tournament in Japan.

During Pivac’s 34-game, three-year tenure, Wales have won 13 games, lost 20 and drawn one.

There were two poor years in 2020 and 2022, with a 2021 Six Nations title in between.

His achievement of becoming the first Wales manager to record a Test win over the Springboks in South Africa in July 2022 has been tempered by defeats at home to Italy and Georgia.

The autumn series had started with an eight-try defeat to New Zealand before Wales responded with a struggling win against Argentina.

After the Georgia loss, the Australia loss further demonstrated the consistency issues Pivac’s side have had throughout their reign.

Mark Nawaqanatawase marks
Mark Nawaqanatawase was key to Australia’s comeback

Experience does not say so for Wales

Australia’s game was played outside the World Rugby international window, meaning both sides were undermanned.

Pivac had largely turned to experience with Gareth Anscombe, Dyer, Alun Wyn Jones, Faletau and new boss Joe Hawkins starting.

Full-back Leigh Halfpenny was picked to start but withdrew just before kick-off with a back spasm, with Adams coming on at 15.

World record holder Jones, 37, was withdrawn after being used as a substitute against New Zealand and was left out for Argentina and Georgia.

Faletau was playing his 100th international, with his 95th cap for Wales complemented by five appearances in the British and Irish Lions Test.

At the other end of the scale, Ospreys center Hawkins, 20, replaced the injured Owen Watkin and provided a creative influence on his debut.

Australia were depleted by injuries and unavailability as they faced their 14th Test since July and fifth in consecutive weeks.

Established names like Michael Hooper, Quade Cooper, Marika Koroibete, Samu Kerevi, Bernard Foley, Will Skelton, Nic White, Andrew Kellaway, Taniela Tupou were absent but still found a way to win.

It never rains but it rains

The cover of the Estadio del Principate was not fully closed due to a technical fault that left a gap of three meters and let in the rain.

On the field, Wales got off to an inauspicious start with Adam Beard giving up the kick-off and Gareth Thomas giving away a scrum penalty which Ben Donaldson slotted home.

Wales responded with a well-worked try set up by Tomos Williams’ offloads and blocked Jones to free up full-back Morgan, who was able to score a third try in two games.

Wales scrum-half Williams was ruled out with a head injury and replaced by Kieran Hardy.

Hawkins enjoyed an encouraging first quarter, but also conceded a penalty for a high tackle that Donaldson dropped.

More powerful work from Morgan allowed Anscombe to extend the score with a penalty.

Faletau expertly finished down the right wing after a flowing move with Anscombe who converted elegantly and scored a second penalty.

Taulupe Faletau
Taulupe Faletau marked his 100th international appearance with a first-half try but Australia’s fightback spoiled his day.

Discipline problems hit the Wallabies

Adams produced defensive heroics, with a turnover and a tackle to save Australian flanker Jed Holloway.

But the Wallabies’ pressure told with scorer Fainga’a following a rolling maul.

Wing Dyer almost scored after being released before being hauled down the line, but Australia scrum-half Jake Gordon was booked for a cynical offside offence.

Wales failed to capitalize on a period of scrummaging superiority and naivety saw Hardy held over the Australian line just before half-time.

Australia captain James Slipper did not return to the pitch in the second half after suffering a head injury and his replacement Tom Robertson was sent off for his side’s persistent penalties in the scrum .

The visitors were reduced to 13 men and Morgan was again at the heart of the attacking maul as he was emphatically cleared for his second try.

Clinical Wales then broke their dominance with a well-worked try for Dyer.

Australia recovers

Anscombe converted before being sent off with a serious shoulder injury, to be replaced by Rhys Priestland.

The Wallabies responded with a try for impressive fullback Nawaqanatawase, who slotted past Alex Cuthbert.

Captain Tipuric was yellow-carded for a cynical trip on reliever Pete Samu and Nawaqanatawase capitalized with a well-worked set-piece try.

Elias was then booked when he conceded a penalty for a maul, meaning Wales were reduced to 13 men.

Pivac chose to draw on the experience of 267 games, with Jones and Faletau leaving the field when Tipuric was already in the sin-bin.

Australia capitalized on their numerical advantage with the match-winning try for substitute Lachlan Lonergan.

The next time these two meet will be in the World Cup pool next September, but the two teams – and the coaching staff – could look very different by then.

Wales: Adams; Cuthbert, North, Hawkins, Dyer; Anscombe, T Williams, G Thomas, Owens, D Lewis, Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Morgan, Tipuric (cap), Faletau.

Substitutions: Elias, R Jones, Francis, Carter, Macleod, Hardy, Priestland, Costelow.

Australia: Wright; Petaia, Ikitau, Hodge, Nawaqanatawase; Donaldson, Gordon; Slipper (cap), Fainga’a, Alaalatoa, Frost, Neville, Holloway, McReight, Gleeson.

Substitutions: Lonergan, Robertson, Talakai, Hanigan, Samu, McDermott, Lolesio, Campbell.

Referee: Matthew Carley (RFU)

Assistant referees: Luke Pearce (RFU), Chris Busby (IRFU)

TMO: Joy Neville (IRFU).

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