Australia beat Wales 15-6 on Saturday to top Pool A and avoid the Springboks in the quarter-finals, reports JON CARDINELLI at Twickenham.
Wales will now face South Africa, the winners of Pool B, in a quarter-final at Twickenham on 17 October. Australia will play Scotland at the same stadium a day later.
The result at Twickenham on Saturday was largely expected. The ferocity of the contest less so.
Not for the first time in recent years, Wales will be wondering how they finished on the wrong side of the scoreline. They certainly had ample chance to win the match when the Wallabies were reduced to 13 men in the second half.
Wales dominated their much-fancied opponents at the point of contact. They were particularly good at shutting down the Wallabies’ space and nullifying the likes of Israel Folau.
The Wallabies led 9-6 at half-time thanks to the accurate goal-kicking of Bernard Foley. Dan Biggar had an opportunity to level the scores right before the break, but pushed his attempt wide.
Wales continued to clatter into their opponents in the second stanza. The throngs of Welsh supporters among the 80,000-strong crowd at Twickenham began to find their voice. They sensed that a famous win against Australia – the first since 2008 – may be on the cards.
The Wallabies had no choice but to infringe, and eventually referee Craig Joubert ran out of patience. Will Genia was yellow-carded in the 57th minute for a cynical infringement right on his own tryline. Dean Mumm was sent to the sin bin two minutes later pulling an opponent down at the lineout. A 13-man Australia was tasked with repelling a rabid Wales attack for eight whole minutes.
But repel them they did. The Wallabies never lost their composure. Their speed off the line and physicality at the moment of impact was gladiatorial.
Wales made the mistake of turning down several shots on goal. They got close to scoring a try on two occasions. Toby Faletau knocked on in the act of placing the ball. George North was then held up by several defenders.
The Wallabies survived that first period of sanction without conceding a point. Then they emerged from the second unscathed. The momentum started to shift, and when they were awarded a breakdown penalty, they booted the ball deep into Wales territory.
Wales were out on their feet at that point. They were mentally spent. They had thrown everything they had at the Wallabies defence. They had received nothing in return.
By contrast, the Wallabies grew in confidence as the game raced towards its climax. The pressure told at the breakdown, and when Foley received a chance to extend Australia’s lead further, he made no mistake. That kick handed the Wallabies a nine-point buffer with only nine minutes remaining in the game.
The Wallabies ensured that the dying moments of the game were played deep in Wales territory. Alex Cuthbert was yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-down. The Dragons continued to make mistakes under pressure. They were fortunate that Foley missed a sixth penalty goal that would have inflated the winning margin to 12.
Once again, many will be wondering how Wales blew it, and how the Wallabies got out of jail. The latter will take some heart from this defensive performance and go into the quarter-finals with momentum.
Wallabies – Penalties: Bernard Foley (5).
Wales – Penalties: Dan Biggar (2).
Wallabies – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 David Pocock, 7 Sean McMahon, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Dean Mumm, 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Kurtley Beale.
Wales – 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 George North, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sam Warburton (c), 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Paul James.
Subs: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Aaron Jarvis, 18 Tom Francis, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 James Hook.
Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images