The look on Michael Hooper’s face said it all. As Australia’s captain sat alongside coach Michael Cheika and attempted to dissect the Wallabies’ first defeat to Wales in a decade, he seemed distant.
Hooper spent much of a 10-minute post-match press briefing deep inside the bowels of the Principality Stadium staring into space, apparently yearning to be anywhere else but there.
He is not used to being in this position. His five previous visits to Cardiff with his country had yielded 16 tries, 138 points and all ended in victory.
In what was an intriguing, attritional arm wrestle on Saturday, Hooper admitted that if he had his time again he would have told his fly-half Bernard Foley to kick for goal, rather than the corner, when Australia won a series of presentable penalties early in the second half.
Getting their noses in front at such a crucial time could have swung the tide in Australia’s favour, but we will never know.
What we do know for sure is that for the first time since November 2008, Wales beat Australia and they did so, largely, by winning the battle of the back-row.
Hooper, again, is not used to being the second most effective openside in any game, but on Saturday he was outfought, outthought and outshone by Justin Tipuric.
The Ospreys captain was comfortably Wales’ best player at the Principality Stadium and a deserved man of the match following an all-action performance.
Tipuric was at his destructive best from the off, the first of his three telling contributions in the opening period made within five minutes as he got over the ball to secure a turnover with the Wallabies on the attack deep inside the Wales half.
Five minutes later the flanker stole a lineout to give his side an attacking platform that should have led ultimately to the first points of the match – had Leigh Halfpenny not endured a rare off-day from the kicking tee.
Speaking after the match Wales coach Warren Gatland admitted it was the most comfortable he had felt defending against an Australian side. That the hosts kept a team that had averaged more than three tries a game on their last five visits to the Principality Stadium from crossing the whitewash will have delighted defence coach Shaun Edwards.
Wigan-bound Edwards was seen ecstatically punching the air before dancing out of the Wales coaching box at full-time and it can be assumed that he had a few words of praise for Tipuric as the celebrations continued in the home changing room.
Australia might not have attacked with the invention of previous Wallabies sides in Cardiff but they did enjoy concerted spells of possession inside the Welsh half on Saturday.
Each time they did, however, a blue scrum cap invariably appeared to disrupt their flow and stop their momentum in its tracks.
That was certainly the case five minutes before half-time, and again less than 12 minutes into the second half when Tipuric made a nuisance of himself as the Wallabies attempted to drive a lineout towards the goal line, forcing a knock on.
On each occasion the gold wave was halted, Wales could clear and belief grew that this would finally be their year, the end of the long hoodoo.
Gatland was measured in his praise for Tipuric at full-time, instead anointing Josh Adams as his man of the match.
The Worcester wing was indeed excellent, and appears to be growing in confidence and stature with every Test cap – as displayed by his chip and gather late on.
But who was it leading the charge to secure the breakdown and ensure that Wales retained possession? That’s right, Tipuric.
His was a gargantuan performance on both sides of the ball – even playing dummy half for multiple phases in the second period when first Gareth Davies and then Tomos Williams were indisposed – and a timely one with Sam Warburton now permanently confined to the commentary box.
Yet, the Ospreys captaincy clearly rests well on Tipuric’s shoulders and he is currently playing some of the best rugby of his career. When Jenkins emerged from the bench on Saturday evening, it was in place of blindside Dan Lydiate and in tandem with Tipuric he ensured there was no let-up in the back-row battle.
Whether the Cardiff Blues skipper did enough in an impressive cameo to force his way into Gatland’s starting side remains to be seen but the potential of a Jenkins-Tipuric axis is clear.
South Africa may well find out just how destructive that partnership can be in a fortnight’s time.
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