Wales hold on to secure stun Australia
November 29, 2008
Lee Byrne runs through to score Wales's second try
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After enduring frustrating defeats against South Africa and New Zealand, Wales - the reigning Six Nations champions - finally claimed the Tri-Nations scalp they so coveted to end their autumn series on a high. Despite a late rally, Australia were comfortably subdued after being rocked in the third minute when their captain, Stirling Mortlock, limped off with injury.
Wales, who hadn't beaten one of the southern hemisphere superpowers since pipping Australia in Cardiff in 2005, were more adventurous, creative and dynamic than the Wallabies. The electrifying brilliance of the Welsh backs Lee Byrne and Shane Williams made the difference, with both men claiming memorable first-half tries to cement their claims for places on next summer's Lions tour to South Africa.
Williams, recently-crowned International Rugby Board player of the year, rounded off a breathtaking fourth-minute move, then transfixed Australia's defence by sending the full-back Byrne over. Australia, outclassed whenever Wales attacked, saw their hopes of a first unbeaten European Test match tour since 1996 evaporate.
But their doggedness meant Wales could never relax, and they were ultimately indebted to fly-half Stephen Jones booting two penalties, a drop-goal and conversion. Lock Mark Chisholm and wing Digby Ioane scored tries for Australia at either end of the contest, while Matt Giteau kicked eight points, yet Wales were not to be denied.
Wales dominated a half of each Test match against the Springboks and All Blacks during the past three weeks, but had failed to score a try on each occasion. But they will now launch their Six Nations title defence against Scotland in February buoyed by a victory they richly deserved.
Giteau swung the game into action, and there was an immediate Wallabies blunder when full-back Drew Mitchell knocked on just outside Australia's 22-metre line. It caused the game's opening scrum, which ended with a free-kick to Wales, but a crunching midfield collision when Mortlock tackled opposite number Jamie Roberts ended with both players going off - Mortlock immediately, and Roberts 15 minutes later.
The dazed Mortlock was helped off, to be replaced by Queensland's Quade Cooper, and Wales immediately took stunning advantage of his absence. Williams broke Australia's initial defensive cover on halfway, before Byrne and Roberts linked magnificently at pace. mitchell prevented a certain try by tackling Roberts, but possession quickly found its way to Williams, who pouched his 44th Test match try.
It was a memorable score - Williams' first of the autumn series - and although Jones drifted his conversion attempt wide, Wales were up and running. Australia, clearly ruffled by Mortlock's premature exit, were at sixes and sevens in all facets of the game as Wales went for the jugular.
Mitchell was then guilty of a rash airborne challenge on Byrne - it amazingly escaped censure from Irish referee Alan Lewis - before Wales undid their promising early work. Hooker Matthew Rees' lineout throw five metres inside his own half was tapped down by lock Alun Wyn-Jones, but scrum-half Gareth Cooper could not gather and a grateful Chisholm sprinted clear to claim an unlikely opportunist try.
Giteau slotted the conversion, and Australia, despite struggling to stay the pace with a fired-up Wales side, led 7-5 after 16 minutes. And as a frantic opening quarter neared its conclusion, Roberts - still feeling the effects of Mortlock's tackle - departed the action and was replaced by Ospreys centre Andrew Bishop.
Chisholm's effort though, sparked Australia into life, and a smart Giteau drop-goal made it 10-5 to the Wallabies before Jones found his range with a penalty after Wallabies hooker Stephen Moore was sin-binned for a technical infringement, yet a Welsh indiscretion 40 metres out then allowed Giteau a penalty chance that he sent wide.
But with Australia temporarily one man down, Wales collected their second try nine minutes before half-time. Williams came in off his wing to transfix Australia's midfield defence, and Byrne exploded through the resulting gap for a score that Jones improved.
Wales' No. 8 Andy Powell had recaptured the blockbusting form of his Test debut against South Africa three weeks ago, giving his team attacking momentum that continued to hurt Australia. Gaps were beginning to appear, and Wales were back in control of the contest, just needing to sustain their excellence for a second 40 minutes.
The Wallabies possessed a possible match-winner in Giteau though, and an angled 47th-minute penalty after Wales captain Ryan Jones infringed, made it 15-13. Wales' inability to move clear on the scoreboard was starting to trouble the overwhelming majority of a capacity 74,000 crowd, and there were first signs of coach Warren Gatland's men tiring.
Gatland replaced the impressive Powell, who had run himself almost to a standstill, with Dafydd Jones after 61 minutes, but Giteau had started to take a tactical grip as Wallabies coach Robbie Deans sent on substitute flanker George Smith. But a 35-metre Jones drop-goal with 13 minutes left restored a five-point Wales advantage, and once again threw down the gauntlet to Australia.
Jones' strike seemed to calm Welsh nerves, and with the forwards scrapping ferociously for possession, Australia could not get up a head of steam. Jones then booted a long-range penalty, and although Ioane try collected a last-minute try, Wales were home and dry, if somewhat breathlessly.
Wales: Byrne, M. Jones, Shanklin, J. Roberts, S. Williams, S. Jones, Cooper, Jenkins, Rees, A. Jones, Gough, A. Jones, R. Jones, M. Williams, Powell.
Replacements: Bishop for J. Roberts (18), D. Jones for Powell (62). Not Used: Hibbard, Yapp, Charteris, M. Roberts, Hook.
Australia: Mitchell, Hynes, Cross, Mortlock, Ioane, Giteau, Burgess, Robinson, Moore, Baxter, Chisholm, Sharpe, McMeniman, Waugh, Brown.
Replacements: Tuqiri for Hynes (34), Cooper for Mortlock (3), Freier for Moore (69), Mumm for McMeniman (69), Smith for Waugh (63). Not Used: Dunning, Cordingley.
Sin Bin: Moore (28).
Ref: Allan Lewis (Ireland).