Opportunity knocks for depleted Wales but poor kicking costs them dear once again

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Wales were left kicking themselves after suffering their third narrow defeat of a World Cup campaign that could easily have seen them contesting tomorrow’s final against New Zealand.

For the second week in succession, Wales’ kickers missed crucial shots at goal.

Last Saturday, James Hook, Leigh Halfpenny and Stephen Jones failed with four attempts between them as France scraped a 9-8 semi-final success.

And yesterday, Hook and Halfpenny blew three chances that ultimately cost Wales the tournament’s bronze medal at Eden Park as Australia edged to a 21-18 victory.

While there is no escaping the considerable impact Wales made on this tournament, they will fly home rueing losses to South Africa, France and Australia by a combined total of just five points.

“Probably the person upset is Neil Jenkins (Wales kicking specialist),” Wales coach Warren Gatland said.

“At this level, you’ve got to take your opportunities. Unfortunately, on these big occasions, our goalkicking has been down.

“In the past, we’ve had reliable goalkickers with percentages in the 80s. For whatever reason, unfortunately, they have missed a couple of crucial ones here.

“The one James missed in front of the posts was pretty important in the scheme of things and was probably what cost us. It’s something we probably need to look at. It has been pretty costly.

“It has been an area that has definitely been one of our strengths, but for whatever reason at this tournament we’ve missed some critical kicks.”

Wales wing Shane Williams marked his farewell World Cup appearance with a 58th Test try and full-back Halfpenny claimed a last-gasp consolation touchdown.

Hook and Stephen Jones each kicked a penalty, while Jones converted Halfpenny’s effort, but Australia prevailed through touchdowns by Berrick Barnes and Ben McCalman, with Barnes dropping a goal and wing James O’Connor kicking the rest.

Stephen Jones said: “We’ve lost three games so closely. One of the easiest things to look at then is goalkicking. I would be interested to look at our statistics compared to other teams.

“We thoroughly enjoy working with Neil. He challenges us and he wants us to be the best out there. We set ourselves high standards, and it is frustrating when it doesn’t go our way.”