By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor
In a nutshell
Wales were denied a famous victory with the final kick of the game – Australia’s replacement fly-half Mike Harris nailing a late penalty from out wide to give the Wallabies the win and the series. It was a ferocious Test match, with Wales producing a huge defensive performance. They even outscored Australia two tries to one – George North going over early on and Jonathan Davies capitalising on Ashley Beck’s quick reactions to score at the start of the second half. The lead changed hands an incredible nine times, with both Leigh Halfpenny and Berrick Barnes accurate with their kicks, but it was Harris’s boot that had the final say.
In the last minute of the game Wales had possession, but Rhys Priestland kicked the ball deep to the Wallabies, who subsequently won a penalty at the breakdown. That set up a lineout on the ten-metre line and when Wales were pinged for collapsing the ensuing driving maul, Harris stepped up to seal the win. Wales should have had faith in their ability to keep ball in hand rather than kicking to the opposition.
Berrick Barnes may have arrived back in Melbourne just a couple of hours before kick-off after flying to Sydney overnight for the birth of his first son, but he showed no signs of tiredness at the Etihad Stadium. He dictated the Wallabies play by varying his game with a myriad of kicks and some effortlessly pinpoint passes – he set up Rob Horne for the Aussies’ only try – plus he missed just one shot at goal.
Room for improvement
Wales must improve their lineout – it too often went awry in Melbourne and cost them valuable possession. Quality first-phase ball in Australian terrirtory is what Wales need to launch their attacking game.
Australia have set-piece problems of their own – they were regularly penalised at the scrum for early engagement and they will want to get their timing right in that area.
Wales improved at the breakdown and were able to slow down Australian ball more regularly, so the Wallabies will be looking to counter that in Sydney next Saturday while Wales will want to have the same effect at the contact area.
Most important for Wales, however, is their composure and decision-making in match-winning situations. They were 40 seconds away from winning this match when they kicked the ball away – had they kept it in hand they could have been celebrating a memorable win. Instead, it was another case of so close yet so far.
In quotes – winners
Mike Harris: “As a kicker it’s your dream to be able to win a game. I was unsuccessful in my last Test against Scotland, so it felt good to be able to put it over. It was nice to have the roof closed so there weren’t hurricane conditions!”
In quotes – losers
Sam Warburton: “The plan was to keep the ball so when we kicked it I remember Ryan Jones shouting, ‘No’ because that’s not what the forwards wanted. I thought we’d learned the lessons of that against Barbarians last summer, but the message wasn’t clear enough.”
AUSTRALIA: Adam Ashley-Cooper; Cooper Vuna (Anthony Fainga’a 71), Rob Horne, Pat McCabe, Digby Ioane; Berrick Barnes (Mike Harris 73), Will Genia; Benn Robinson (Ben Alexander 65), Tatafu Polata Nau (Stephen Moore 51), Sekope Kepu, Rob Simmons (Michael Hooper 70), Nathan Sharpe, Scott Higginbotham, David Pocock (captain), Wycliff Palu (Dave Dennis 55).
Try: Horne. Con: Barnes. Pens: Barnes 5, Harris.
Sin-bin: Cooper Vuna (61min).
WALES: Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Ashley Beck, George North; Rhys Priestland, Mike Phillips (Rhys Webb 65); Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees (Richard Hibbard 67), Adam Jones, Bradley Davies, Alun Wyn Jones (Luke Charteris 67), Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton (captain), Ryan Jones.
Tries: North, J Davies. Cons: Halfpenny 2. Pens: Halfpenny 3.