Rugby-Wales ponder last chance for 'next step' in Sydney
SYDNEY, June 22 |
SYDNEY, June 22 (Reuters) - Wales have one last chance to take the "next step" in international rugby against Australia this weekend and finish what has been a breakthrough 12 months on a high, forwards coach Robin McBryde said on Friday.
When the Wales squad gathered for the first of two pre-World Cup training camps in Poland last July, they were coming off a fourth-place finish in the Six Nations and were 80-1 outsiders to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy.
They bucked those odds with a stunning run to the semi-finals of the World Cup in New Zealand, where they lost controversially to France, before sweeping all before them to claim a Grand Slam in the Six Nations in March.
Next on the agenda was to beat one of the southern hemisphere powers on the road but Australia have had just enough to prevail in two tight tests and clinch the series before the third and final encounter in Sydney on Saturday.
"It's our last opportunity isn't it?" McBryde told reporters at the Sydney Football Stadium.
"We said before coming on the tour we were keen to take that next step in the development of the young squad that we've got. We've come close on the last two occasions but we haven't quite crossed the line ...
"We're confident if we can get a little bit more accuracy and a little bit more discipline in our play we can ask a little bit more of Australia and ensure that victory."
Even though Wales won matches in Australia in the pool stage at the 2003 World Cup, they have not beaten the Wallabies in their own backyard since 1969.
Their last victory over a southern hemisphere power Down Under was also against the Australians in the third place playoff at the 1987 World Cup in New Zealand.
McBryde said there had been a debate on whether to bring fresh faces into the side after the narrow defeat in the second test in Melbourne but the coaching team had decided to stick with the same starting line-up.
"We couldn't have been more consistent in our selection so it's a vote of confidence in those 15 players," McBryde added.
"We were less than a minute away from victory last week so we must have done something right to put ourselves in that position.
"Hopefully we'll be able to hang on just a little bit longer."
Having failed to build on the Grand Slams of 2005 and 2008, Wales were determined to use this year's achievement as a stepping stone to more success.
It has been almost 12 months of solid rugby for many of the players though and win or lose on Saturday there will be some weary legs getting onto the plane back to Europe next week.
"I hope there's enough in the tank, we've been conscious of getting the balance right this week, they've got to feel fresh as well," said McBryde.
"It's been a long year for a lot of the players and they've had some ups and downs, mostly ups.
"It would be good to finish that year on a high so they can spend their four to six weeks off in a happy mood and look forward to next season." (Additional reporting by Stuart MacDill, editing by Peter Rutherford)
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