Wales came up just short as they lost 30-26 to Australia in a superb Test match at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff.
A marvelously entertaining game saw the momentum swing between the teams a number of times, but the Wallabies just about deserved it thanks to their incisive and risk-taking attacking approach.
The home side got themselves off to a stunning start when George North burst down the left wing and grubbered ahead. Adam Ashley-Cooper looked to have the kick covered, but he gave it an awkward touch, allowing North to re-gather and touch down.
Leigh Halfpenny’s wonderful touchline conversion had the Welsh 7-0 ahead with just two minutes elapsed, but Australia came back strongly. The running games of Will Genia and Israel Folau threatened, but Halfpenny’s reliable boot extended the home side’s lead with an 11th minute penalty.
Christian Leali’ifano got Australia off the mark with a penalty of his own, before Halfpenny made it 13-3 from long-range. The Wallabies continued to look dangerous though, and a Michael Hooper steal was shifted through the hands, including a skillful one-handed flick by Quade Cooper, resulting in Leali’ifano dotting down and converting the score.
A Halfpenny counter-attack ended with Dan Biggar who knocking over the three points. Australia got on top as the game broke up though, with the passing skills of Cooper and the power of Joe Tomane standing out. The latter looked to have set up Genia for a try, but his inside pass didn’t go to hand, before a similar effort from Leali’ifano brought the same result.
Soon after, Folau was tackled just short of the try-line, Wales cynically slowed the ball down and Biggar was sin-binned, allowing the Wallabies to maintain the pressure. In the end it was Folau himself who powered over, getting through the tackle of Phillips to score.
Leali’ifano’s curling conversion put Australia into the lead for the first time at 17-16 and there was time for an Ian Evans break down the right-hand touchline before Wayne Barnes called a halt to a first half that had absolutely everything.
Tomane scored a second half try after a Folau pass. Tim Ireland/PA Wire/Press Association Images.
The Wallabies picked up where they had left off after the break, with Nick Cummins and Cooper conjuring line-breaks but the Welsh held on. Bizarrely, the first scrum of the game only arrived in the 46th minute but soon after Tomane crossed in the right-hand corner, scooping up a pass from Folau.
The fullback’s assist was in doubt, but the TMO ruled that his hands had gone backwards, allowing Leali’ifano to add a brilliant conversion from out wide for a 27-16 lead. The Brumbies man tacked on another penalty to make it 30-16, but the Welsh were far from beaten.
An excellent long pass from Scott Williams almost saw his namesake Liam over for Wales in the 59th minute, but the Scarlets wing came up just short. With North moved into the centre, Biggar immediately looked for him with the home side’s next attack and that tactic paid lucrative dividends.
The Northampton Saints’ giant beat three men as he broke through in midfield, scoring against the left post after going past Folau for a brilliant try. Biggar’s conversion drew Wales back to 30-23 , before he was withdrawn for the creative Rhys Priestland.
Wallabies captain Ben Mowen conceded a 68th minute penalty to allow the replacement out-half to kick his first three points and draw Wales to within four points of the visitors. Cooper made his first error of the night soon after, scuffing an attempted drop goal along the ground from 20 metres out.
Two minutes later, Cooper was harshly yellow-carded for a marginally early tackle that may have prevented a Wales try. Priestland kicked to the right-hand corner and Wales went through several phases, but Alun Wyn Jones knocked on. Gatland’s men conceded a penalty from the resulting scrum, allowing the Wallabies to clear.
Liam Williams had a late chance to counter attack from deep but elected to kick the ball back to the Wallabies, who attempted to run the clock down before being penalised for holding on in the tackle. Wales desperately attacked from their own half, but Alex Cuthbert’s foot in touch confirmed the 30-26 win for Australia.
A magnificent Test match.