By Owain Jones, Rugby World Editor
In a nutshell
This game was the horror movie version of Groundhog Day for Wales, who put in their best performance of a hugely disappointing autumn series only to finish bereft after losing narrowly to Australia for a seventh time in 13 months. The game was no spectacle of running rugby – in truth it was more of a kicking duel – but no one could say the game was meaningless. Australia were playing for their retiring lock colossus Nathan Sharpe and Wales for pride and a place in the second tier of the World Cup draw. Neither side were able to pull away from one another until the fateful 79th minute, when Kurtley Beale broke Welsh hearts with a killer try.
Not too difficult to pinpoint. There were just 28 seconds left on the clock, with Wales leading 12-9, when Kurtley Beale was released to scamper over in the corner to render a near 60,000 crowd speechless. Credit must go to the Wallabies, they’d kept plugging away, all too aware of their previous last-minute successes. Nick Phipps fed Berrick Barnes, who put out a cross-field pass to Mike Harris, who in turn outpaced an exhausted Lou Reed. Harris fed Dave Dennis down the touchline and when Dennis flung the ball back to the supporting Beale, it was all over for Wales, again.
If there was one man who didn’t deserve to be on the losing side, it was Leigh Halfpenny. What he lacks in height and bulk, he more than makes up for in courage and derring-do. Rock-solid under the high ball, explosive on the counter-attack and, like all great full-backs, brave without due regard for his body – he was taken to hospital at the end after putting in a brave tackle on Dave Dennis. Halfpenny is also an 80% Test kicker and barring injury, is certain to be facing the Wallabies again in the summer with the Lions.
Room for improvement
Wales are now fit enough to go toe-to-toe with the world’s best sides, a quality they haven’t always been able boast, yet over the last 13 months they have continually been unable to close out tight games against southern hemisphere rivals. A solution has to be found to Wales’ loss of composure at crucial times. With Warren Gatland now committed to Lions duty, Rob Howley has a job to rebuild Wales’ shattered psyche as much as their battered bodies.
In quotes – winners
Australia head coach Robbie Deans: “It was a great game as all of our encounters with Wales have been this year. Credit to the lads for even being in the game at the end, they have had a huge year and that was a fast and physical game so to be in the game, but to get up to win it was even better
In quotes – losers
Wales captain, Sam Warburton: “That’s the worst defeat I’ve ever been involved with. To be in control really for the majority of the second half and in the last play of the game we slip up. It’s really hard to take.”
Wales made 112 tackles, missing 15, a success rate of 88.2%. Australia made 81 tackles, missing seven, a success rate of 92%. Australia carried 470 metres with the ball compared to Wales’ 293. Alex Cuthbert was Wales’ top carrier with 86 metres, followed closely by Leigh Halfpenny with 82 metres. Jamie Roberts was their top tackler with 17.
Wales: Halfpenny; Cuthbert, Davies, Roberts, Williams; Priestland, Phillips; Jenkins, Rees (Owens 66), Andrews, Reed, Charteris (R Jones ht), Shingler, Warburton (c), Faletau (Tipuric 66).
Pens: Halfpenny 4.
Australia: Barnes; Cummins (Ioane 48), Ashley-Cooper, Tapuai (Harris 59), Mitchell; Beale, Phipps; Robinson (Slipper 61), Nau (Moore ht), Alexander (Kepu 67), Douglas (Hooper 52), Sharpe, Higginbotham (Dennis 16), Pocock, Palu.
Try: Beale Pens: Beale 3.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (Eng).