Australia claimed their 13th successive win over Wales with a 29-21 victory in Cardiff on Saturday, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
The odds were stacked against Wales heading into this Test. They were on a wretched losing streak against the Wallabies and had not won an opening end-of-year Test since 2002 when they beat minnows Romania.
By contrast, Australia were riding a wave of confidence after their spirited Rugby Championship campaign and Bledisloe Cup win over the All Blacks.
The match itself was played at a high tempo and ferocious intensity, which was set by the visitors from the start. Wales produced a few bright moments and looked to have the necessary fighting power to stay in the contest, but Australia gradually took the game away from the hosts.
Reece Hodge helped Wales make the perfect start when his clearance kick was charged down. But fortunately for the Wallabies wing, the ball bounced kindly for teammate Bernard Foley to sweep and clear. It wasn’t long before Wales took the lead through the boot of Leigh Halfpenny, who slotted a penalty.
The Wallabies’ response was almost immediate as hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau scored from the back of a rolling maul after some patient build-up play. From the restart, Wales centre Jonathan Davies danced through Australia’s defence with a devastating run and two passes later wing Steffan Evans scored on his Test debut.
Australia continued to play high-risk running rugby, which forced Wales to make 56 tackles in the opening 25 minutes. The unrelenting pressure eventually took a toll on the Welsh defence as they conceded 10 unanswered points, and with that the lead. After storming downfield and flooding the opposition’s 22, lock Adam Coleman latched on to a pinpoint pass and crashed over. The conversion was good from Foley, and not long after that Hodge drilled a long-range penalty as the Wallabies led 17-10.
Wales needed to get back into the contest after a quiet period, and they did with a Halfpenny penalty kick after Michael Hooper was pinned for offside. But Hooper then powered over the tryline on the stroke of half-time to give Australia an eight-point advantage.
After the break, the Wallabies’ defiance in defence and Wales’ poor handling left the hosts frustrated as they spurned several scoring opportunities right on the tryline.
In the 53rd minute, Halfpenny kicked his third penalty of the night, but the game then fell flat.
However, Kurtley Beale produced his customary moment of magic when he ripped the ball out of Evans’ grasp while Wales were on the attack and cantered away to score at the other end.
It was a hammer blow to Wales’ chances of winning the match, but not a knockout. With 12 minutes remaining, Australia were reduced to 14 men after Hooper was sin-binned for repeated infringements at the breakdown. That provided Wales with an opportunity to get back in the game, but unfortunately for coach Warren Gatland, his team failed to make the most of their numerical advantage.
It was only after Hooper had returned to the field that Wales managed to score. But Hallam Amos’ 80th-minute effort only added some respectability to the score.
Wales – Tries: Steffan Evans, Hallam Amos. Conversion: Leigh Halfpenny. Penalties: Halfpenny (3).
Wallabies – Tries: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Adam Coleman, Michael Hooper, Kurtley Beale. Conversions: Bernard Foley (3). Penalty: Reece Hodge.
Wales – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Owen Williams, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans.
Subs: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Sam Cross, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Owen Watkin, 23 Hallam Amos.
Wallabies – 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Marika Koroibete, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Reece Hodge, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 Sean McMahon, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Matt Philip, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Karmichael Hunt, 23 Henry Speight.
Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images