'Desperate' Wales must go for win
IF a cricketer reaches his 50, it is customary for him to doff his cap, raise his bat and accept the ripple of polite applause that tends to wash around the ground.
However he has got to the mark, even if the runs have been eked out via a series of nudges, squirts and thick edges, there is usually generous acknowledgement.
But last weekend Wales's rugby team completed their own half-century and there were few hands put together in appreciation.
The game with New Zealand was the 50th Wales have played against the southern hemisphere's big three in the professional era.
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In case anyone is wondering, the record is lamentable: three wins, one draw and 46 defeats.
Forty-six defeats from 50 matches, mind you.
When they are matched with one of the top three sides in the world, Wales are the car that keeps crashing, the horse that keeps falling, the boat that keeps sinking. Mix those metaphors and be damned: this is not a successful rugby nation in world terms. Not by a long chalk.
They play Australia tomorrow and dare not come unstuck again or they will plunge outside the top eight in the IRB's rankings and into the third pot of seeds for the next World Cup.
The omens are not particularly favourable, with the Wales medical team working overtime this week to patch up a squad who have been physically battered over the past three weeks.
Over the past 13 months, Wales have played Australia five times and lost the lot.
Yet there was a time when Welsh teams had the measure of the Wallabies. In the amateur era they were the one member of the Sanzar triumvirate who Wales regularly picked off, the two countries having won eight games each in the series by the time the game went professional in 1995.
You could fill an Encyclopedia Britannica with the reasons why the two have travelled different roads since.
Dick Moriarty faced Australia three times, twice with Wales and once with Swansea. He didn't taste defeat in those games.
He played in Australia for two seasons with Western Suburbs and has his own views about why Wales have so often come up short whenever they play the men in gold and green or indeed any of the other southern hemisphere heavyweights.
"There are so many elements to this," he said.
"The way the season is structured in the north doesn't help, with a block of internationals plonked in the middle of a congested club and regional programme before Christmas.
"One or two autumn games might be refreshing, but four is too many. People say they generate a lot of money, but if that's the only thing that matters then why not play six or seven?
"We have a situation where players are being used as cannon fodder, where they are being asked to take part in a gruelling programme of matches and injuries are stacking up. There comes a point where you have to draw a line and ask what's it all about, but no-one is doing that here.
"Then there is the mental side of things. The best teams from the south have a confidence about them that comes from winning. Wales had that self-belief once, but now the likes of New Zealand and Australia out-think us on the pitch.
"The All Blacks last week had 15 players who knew exactly what they were doing and were comfortable in their roles.
"If we were going to beat them we had to start well. But what did we do? Wasted three kickable penalties, that's what. It beggared belief.
"If you divide a game into micro-segments, you'll see there are not many opportunities to score points — perhaps eight or so chances in an average match. Against the All Blacks you know there could be even fewer, so you have to take every one that comes your way.
"Yet there we were trying to go for short-range line-outs instead of telling Leigh Halfpenny to put the ball between the posts."
Moriarty continued: "Having played in Australia for a couple of seasons, I had no fear of playing against their players. I respected them and knew how talented the likes of Mark Ella and his brothers were, but I also knew they were human beings who could be beaten like anyone else.
"They are different from the All Blacks, less structured and more prone to taking risks, and as a result you get more opportunities against them.
"Do I see Wales winning tomorrow? Well, we are at home and we are desperate, so it isn't out of the question. But we should be about beating them more than just once in a blue moon. We should aim higher than that." What has been impressive about Australia this month is the way they have crafted results in the face of adversity.
After a 33-6 thrashing in France, they turned up at Twickenham a week later missing Will Genia, David Pocock, Quade Cooper, James Horwill, James O'Connor, Matt Giteau and Rocky Elsom, all injured or unavailable.
You could just imagine England's players licking their lips at the prospect of tucking in.
But in the space of 80 minutes roasted Wallaby was pulled from the menu.
Australia were superb, rock solid in the scrum, outstanding at the breakdown and all class and quality behind, with Kurtley Beale and Berrick Barnes offering flair, intelligence and audacity, qualities the purple-shirted hosts lacked.
"They play a style of rugby that is easy on the eye," said former Wales full-back Paul Thorburn. "It is no mean feat to be entertaining in the modern game, with the laws as they are, but Australia showed a lot of class against England and channelled it correctly.
"I think Welsh players are over-coached. We are obsessed with patterns and have become predictable.
"I don't think our structure is right. We are not breeding tough rugby players any more. And we do not have enough people capable of expressing themselves."
An eye to England's regal kit, one writer summed up the Twickenham match thus: "It resembled 15 shrewd Colonel Mustards outwitting 15 frenetic Professor Plums."
Fifteen smart Miss Scarletts this weekend, anyone?
If that doesn't work, Wales could always throw the lead piping at their visitors. The key is to get the win. Warren Gatland will be praying his side can get through this game without Adam Jones, who long ago surged past first minister Carwyn Jones as the most important man in Wales.
They will be without the Osprey's deputy Aaron Jarvis, too, plus the next cab off the tight-head rank in Craig Mitchell and the one after that in Rhodri Jones.
So to say a big day beckons for Scott Andrews is like pointing out that Rafa Benitez has encountered the odd boo during his first two games at Chelsea.
Wales need Andrews and Gethin Jenkins to avoid engaging reverse in the scrums; they need Sam Warburton and his back row to better the Wallabies at the breakdown; they need their half-backs to play with guile and intelligence.
They will be desperate for a win. But desperation doesn't always overcome inspiration, and Australia will start as deserved favourites.
For Gatland's team, an 80- minute performance is the requirement. Nothing less will do.