Warren Gatland revelled in the delicious irony of Wales grabbing victory over Australia with a late score after suffering heartbreak on numerous occasions in a terrible run of losses against the southern hemisphere team.
The Welsh victory bucked a trend that saw the Wallabies notch up 13 straight wins since losing 21-18 in Cardiff in 2008 with an intense 9-6 win at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium on Saturday.
Gatland actually oversaw that victory 10 years ago as part of his first autumn series since taking over as Wales coach following the 2007 Rugby World Cup, but has then been forced to watch on as his side fell short against the Wallabies, on many occasion in close-scoring encounters.
“Our composure towards the end was good,” Gatland said of Saturday’s nerve-shredding encounter where defence was king and the sole scores were penalties — Wales hitting three through Leigh Halfpenny (2) and Dan Biggar while Australia notched up two thanks to Bernard Foley and Matt Toomua.
“But there was no composure from me, I was struggling the last few minutes.
“I was thinking ‘here we go, deja vu, we’re going to lose in the last minute’, but fairness to the boys they dug deep.
“It’s always nice to get a win against a southern hemisphere team.”
Wales have now notched up seven consecutive wins, for the first time since the 2004/5 season, having opened their autumn campaign with a 21-10 victory over Scotland. They go on to face Tonga and South Africa.
“The squad’s in a great place at the moment and we’re building really nicely for the next 10 months. We’re in a good place,” Gatland said, adding that the side to face the Tongans would be much changed as the quest for ever-more strength in depth carries on.
– Bench delivers –
Gatland had said before the game that his selection, with little tinkering after the Scotland game and a bench boasting an impressive 180 caps, had all been about closing down the final quarter and handing valuable playing time to players who might not be regulars, such as fly-half Gareth Anscombe and winger Josh Adams.
And so it proved, with summer tour co-captains Cory Hill and Ellis Jenkins both enjoying excellent cameos off the bench.
“I thought the bench was great,” the New Zealander said, “Dan (Biggar) coming on and kicking a pressure kick to give us the win.
“The bench gave us some real impetus. It’s the strongest bench we’ve put out.”
Wales and Australia will clash on September 29, 2019, at Tokyo Stadium in what many reckon will be the game that decides the winner of a Rugby World Cup Pool D that also includes Fiji, Georgia and Uruguay.
Gatland admitted there was a “lot at stake” in the coming year with competition for places at its highest for some time ahead of the Six Nations and the World Cup itself.
“We feel we’re in a really good place as a group,” he said. “We’re really looking forward to the next year.
“There’s some real momentum, seven in a row, and so that brings something with it as well, a bit of pressure because players who take the field next week know they’ve got to go out there and perform.”