Australia spoil Williams' party
Graham Jenkins at the Millennium Stadium
December 3, 2011
Wales' Shane Williams celebrates his last-gasp score but it was not enough to beat Australia in Cardiff
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Williams broke his own record with his 58th try for his country in the dying moments of his 87th and final outing for Wales to the delight of a bumper 69,537 crowd but it was not enough to deny the Wallabies a deserved victory and the James Bevan Trophy. Three tries in ten second-half minutes from scrum-half Will Genia, centre Berrick Barnes and winger Lachie Turner swung the game in the visitors favour and denied Williams a dream ending to an outstanding international career.
The boot of fly-half Rhys Priestland had given Wales a narrow 6-3 lead going into the break and he crossed for a try on the hour mark to offer hope of a late revival but just as they did in the Rugby World Cup Bronze Final match a couple of months ago, the Wallabies held on to take the spoils.
Priestland opened the scoring from the kicking tee on six minutes after Wallabies flanker Scott Higginbotham was penalised and Wales weathered a powerful riposte from Australia before scrum-half Lloyd Williams saw a try disallowed in a frantic few minutes.
The warning signs were there for Wales as they were stretched by the quick-thinking Genia and Barnes but the home side were up to the challenge with their trademark cast-iron defence offering little to a Wallabies side that had found time and space easy to come by in their rout of the Barbarians last weekend.
Australia had a chance to level the scores on the half hour after a minor victory in a fairly even scrum battle offered O'Connor a relatively easy shot at the posts but he pulled his effort wide. But they did not dwell on the setback. Fullback Adam Ashley-Cooper carved his way through the heart of the Welsh defence before Barnes launched a cross-kick out wide that was gathered superbly by Turner who was denied a try by the efforts of Shane Williams and the Television Match Official.
Suddenly gaps were appearing everywhere with Wales lock Ian Evans charging deep into Australian territory to force an offside penalty that Priestland landed to double the home side's lead. The Wallabies were determined to notch some reward for their first half efforts and an offside penalty was duly slotted by O'Connor in the last act of the half.
The much-anticipated openside showdown between Wales' Sam Warburton and Australia's David Pocock only lasted a half with the latter forced to make way at the break with Radike Samo drafted into the Wallabies' back-row.
The disruption had little effect on Genia's dominance and he continued to orchestrate proceedings. But his side were repeatedly frustrated by a determined Welsh defence with loose-head Gethin Jenkins setting the standard with his usual outstanding industry.
Australia answer was to double their efforts and it paid dividends. Barnes and Turner worked an opening down the flank before the ball was chipped ahead for O'Connor to chase who was hauled down by Leigh Halfpenny without the ball. Kaplan did believe it warranted a penalty try but it did result in a yellow card for the fullback. Australia peppered the Welsh line from the resulting penalty with Genia eventually wriggling over from close range with a little help from Higginbotham.
O'Connor's conversion gave his side a little more breathing room but they were in no mood to settle for a four-point cushion. A superb line from Higginbotham saw him ghost through the Welsh defence where he had the ever-present Genia in support. Wales scrambled well to snuff out the danger but could not escape the wrath of Kaplan whose whistle gave O'Connor a chance to add to his tally only for his kick to hit the post.
The Wallabies were alive to the unexpected opportunity and O'Connor worked the ball wide to Turner who had the pace to power over unopposed in the corner. Faced with a much more difficult kick than his previous effort, O'Connor landed the conversion with ease.
Shane Williams' day took a turn for the worse a few moments later with a loose pass in midfield hacked on by Turner, but the winger recovered in time to haul down his rival inside the 22. However, there was no respite for the hosts with a beautifully delayed pass from Samo allowing Barnes to cap a strong showing with a try that was again converted by O'Connor.
But a gutsy Wales bounced back with a strong run from winger George North taking his side close before Priestland muscled his way over to give his side hope although the conversion proved too much for him.
With the game lost, Wales rallied once more in the closing stages, seemingly determined to do their retiring winger proud. Another rampaging run from Faletau had the Wallabies on the back foot inside their own 22 and the ball was spun out to Shane Williams who stepped around a desperate tackle from Barnes before speeding past centre Anthony Faingaa on his way to the line. Priestland's conversion had little impact on the result as the crowd stood as one to salute one of the game's modern greats.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.