A late Bernard Foley drop goal helped the Wallabies to a 33-28 victory over a spirited Wales in Cardiff on Saturday. BRENTON CHELIN reports.
We've seen this all before. Wales, for all their effort, for all their enterprising play and ball retention, were just not good enough to get one over a team from the southern hemisphere.
Even when a penalty try gave them the lead with 15 minutes remaining, you got the feeling that the players and those watching on in the Millennium Stadium didn't truly believe that they were capable of registering a momentous victory.
The match itself consisted of two contrasting halves. The first a breathless affair, as both teams looked to showcase their attacking talents, with a flagrant disregard for their defensive responsibilities. The second, the more customary chess match that we've come to expect from Test match rugby.
It took all of three minutes for the first try of the match, a sharply taken effort from Welsh scrumhalf Rhys Webb after Australian debutant Sean McMahon left a gap on the fringe of a ruck on the 22. The Welsh were making all the play early on, but it was Australia who would score next through a familiar face.
Following some strong work from captain Michael Hooper, Israel Folau sliced through the Welsh defence to go over for his 16th Test try and first in five matches. The drought was broken and he'd have his second shortly thereafter.
Wales, for all their continuity on attack, struggled to get across the gainline. After 13 phases with not much in the way of progress, Webb tried to force the play with a long looping pass. Folau gambled, latched on and raced the ball back 80m to go in for his second try.
Neither team seemed willing or able to seize control of the match, with errors and a lack of confidence playing its part in equal measure. George North was heavily involved in Wales' second try – scored by Alex Cuthbert – but the Northampton Saints winger was largely undone by Australia's line speed on defence.
His opposite number then burst through two feeble tackle attempts by Welsh defenders to restore Australia's lead, before Wales levelled things up with a try of their own after the hooter following Sam Warburton's decision to forego the posts and go for the corner.
Two Bernard Foley penalties moved Australia clear at the start of the second half as both teams changed tact, opting for a more measured approach to proceedings. The Welsh rhythm was undone by injuries to Leigh Halfpenny and Dan Biggar, but they slowly worked their way back into the match, on the back of a dominant scrum.
It was the scrum – Australia's Achilles heel – that would give them their way back into the match.
However, with time winding down, Australia took the ball through 18 phases before Will Genia found Foley, who coolly split the uprights with a drop goal. He added a penalty with just over a minute remaining, and despite a late Welsh rally, Australia held on for Michael Cheika's first Test win in charge.
Wales – Tries: Rhys Webb, Alex Cuthbert, Alun Wyn Jones, penalty try. Conversions: Leigh Halfpenny (2), Dan Biggar, Rhys Priestland.
Wallabies – Tries: Israel Folau (2), Tevita Kuridrani. Conversions: Bernard Foley (3). Penalties: Foley (3). Drop goal: Foley.
Wales – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 George North, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Paul James.
Subs: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Gethin Jenkins, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Mike Phillips, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Cory Allen.
Wallabies – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Leali’ifano, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Saia Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper.
Subs: 16 James Hanson, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 James Horwill, 20 Will Skelton, 21 Matt Hodgson, 22 Will Genia, 23 Rob Horne.
Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images