WALES assistant coach Shaun Edwards believes there is still plenty to play for in Saturday's final Test against Australia despite having already lost the series.
Australia earned an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match series when they followed up their 27-19 win in the first Test in Brisbane with a last-gasp 25-23 triumph in Melbourne at the weekend.
That heartbreaking defeat continued Wales' miserable record in Australia, where they have not recorded a victory over the host nation in over 40 years, and means they have still not won an away Test against any of the southern hemisphere's big three in 25 years.
However, the prospect of ending those dismal runs is exactly what Edwards is now setting his sights on as the Six Nations champions look to end their summer tour Down Under on a high.
"Let's be honest, if we win the Test on Saturday it'll be the first time in the professional era since 1969 that Wales have won a Test in the southern hemisphere and that's a big goal to shoot for,’’ said Edwards.
"It was a huge disappointment (on Saturday), an opportunity definitely missed, but hopefully as the week progresses that will slowly turn into a determination to not leave your beautiful shores without a victory in a Test match.’’ If Wales are to end their long wait to beat Australia in their own back yard then they will need to cut out giving away avoidable penalties - something Edwards feels cost them dear on Saturday.
"We conceded 25 points in Melbourne, which was disappointing, but only one try. I was disappointed in some of the penalties that we gave away, but we were defending for such long periods of time,’’ said Edwards.
"Defences get refereed more harshly than offences do, and rightly so. Otherwise we would have the stalemate game we had two or three years ago when there was so much kicking in the game.
"But when you are defending for such long periods you are going to concede a penalty or two. The one which gave Australia the field position at the end was very avoidable and it is the avoidable ones you want to cut down on.’’ Wales' loss was one of three near misses for northern hemisphere teams this weekend, with world champions New Zealand just beating Ireland 22-19, while England lost 36-27 to South Africa in Johannesburg.
Asked to explain what is apparently a narrowing of the gap between north and south, Edwards suggested some of the southern hemisphere's dominance in recent times can be attributed to scheduling.
"There's no doubt if you look at the results over the years the strength has been in the southern hemisphere, but you have to look at the preparation the southern hemisphere teams have,’’ he said.
"The only time we really compete on level footing with southern hemisphere teams is the Rugby World Cup...because every year Australia, South Africa and the All Blacks have four months together all the way up until the end of November where obviously they finish usually in the UK.
"The northern hemisphere teams normally have a week to prepare sometimes for those...and I think if you look at the win-loss ratios in the World Cup you'll notice that the northern hemisphere teams do substantially better than they do in the autumn.’’