Wales just pip Australia
The Qantas Wallabies have gone down 21-18 to Six Nations champions Wales in a dramatic and incident packed Test match in Cardiff tonight.
Wales led 15-10 at half time due to scintillating tries to Welsh wing wizard Shane Williams and new sensation fullback Lee Byrne, and then held on as the Wallabies threw everything at the home side in the final moments to record a treasured victory over a Southern Hemisphere heavyweight.
Before the kick off, Lote Tuqiri took the last place on the bench with Adam Ashley-Cooper deemed to have not recovered after his heavy knock against France.
The drama started early when after two minutes the Wallabies suffered a major disruption when captain Stirling Mortlock collided heavily with Welsh counterpart Jamie Roberts and after prolonged treatment was helped from the field. Quade Cooper was brought into the action in the unfamiliar role of inside centre, and the young Queenslander was facing the biggest 78 minutes of his life.
If the Welsh hill was starting to look like a mountain, the task was even tougher when less than a minute later Wales were in for a magnificent try. Starting from deep in their own territory they put together nearly ten phases as IRB International Rugby Player of the Year Williams made one break on halfway then backed up to finish the move with a one hand take and dive into the corner.
It was the first time Wales had scored a try against their Southern Hemisphere opponents in November, having failed to cross the line against South Africa and New Zealand. This motion and dive sent the loyal crowd into a singalong and the atmosphere went through the roof as they sniffed something special.
Wales were enjoying 80% of the possession, while the Wallabies were being penalized at scrumtime and looking shell shocked without their captain. The Men of Gold were just holding on when Luke Burgess snaffled a crucial turnover in the Wallabies 22. Drew Mitchell mis-kicked his clearance and Wales had a lineout 30 metres out from the Wallabies line.
The throw was tapped down by Wales but it bounced up straight into the arms of Mark Chisholm with the big Brumbies lock charging 70 metres down field to score a massive try for Australia, completely against the run of play. This grit and never give up attitude grows more and more in this squad under Deans and the Wallabies were eyeing another Northern scalp.
Matt Giteau slotted the kick & the Wallabies found themselves 7-5 ahead in a very entertaining and breathless Test match. The try seemed to settle the Wallabies and the Men of Gold began to match the hosts in possession and territory. Wales were disrupted when Roberts also succumbed to the after-effects of the clash with Mortlock and staggered off on 17 minutes to be replaced by the inexperienced Andrew Bishop. With Burgess giving great service from the ruck the Wallabies worked it downfield and Giteau took a neat field goal on 23 minutes to put the Men of Gold further ahead at 10-5.
But then it was Wales turn to surge upfield, the Six Nations' title holders playing open, thrilling Rugby, stretching the ball from one side of the field to the other. The Wallabies were defending desperately and suddenly they were down to 14-men as hooker Stephen Moore was yellow carded for a “professional foul” at the ruck in the Men of Gold’s 22.
Giteau had a chance to put the Wallabies further ahead but missed a 46-metre penalty shot and then the tide of the game turned again as now the hosts surged. Soon after Wales were in for their second try with Williams running across field before popping up a superb pass to a straight running fullback Byrne who sliced through the Men of Gold defence to score under the posts. Stephen Jones landed the conversion and Wales were back in front, 15-10.
Amounst all the tension big Tuqiri entered the pitch jst before half time for his first taste of rugby in over a month and tension tightened even more. Wales darted around and finished the first half well on top with the Wallabies holding on.
The Wallabies though hit back with Burgess, having his best game in a gold jersey, spearheading the attack as the Men of Gold surged downfield through multiple phases. Welsh captain Ryan Jones then infringed at the breakdown in the Wales 22 but this time Lewis didn’t go to his pocket. The newly shorn Giteau landed the penalty from an acute angle and the Wallabies were down by just two points, 13-15.
Wales now surged again and Jones had another chance to put the home team further ahead but missed his penalty shot from straight in front 40 metres out. The game continued to go from end to end, with Welsh No.8 Andy Powell and Wallabies flanker Hugh McMeniman prominent, but somehow both defensive lines held as the clock passed the hour mark.
Shortly after the hour George Smith came on for Phil Waugh who’d made an important contribution in a non-stop performance. The Men of Gold looked dangerous soon after but the final pass from Cooper to fullback Drew Mitchell was judged to have gone forward. The Wallabies were falling foul of Lewis at scrumtime and from another penalty Wales worked there way downfield and Jones landed a high, wobbling drop goal to increase the lead to 18-13 with 13 minutes to go and the Men of Gold’s unbeaten record on tour in Europe on the line.
Robbie Deans went to the bench bringing on Adam Freier for Moore, this time permanently, and Dean Mumm for McMeniman. But with the clock ticking down and Wales determined to hold on, the Wallabies needed a moment of magic. It looked like it might come with five minutes to go and the Wallabies forwards working tight, short drives in the Welsh 22 but once again Lewis penalized the attacking team just when it seemed the Welsh defence might crack.
Another penalty, this time against Mitchell for going off his feet, when it seemed it was Byrne who had come in at the side of a ruck and should have been penalized, gave Jones another chance and with just a minute to go the Welsh flyhalf gave the home team a winning 21-13 lead.
A try to Digby Ioane gave the Wallabies a late chance and despite spirited attack by the Men of Gold after time had expired Wales, urged on by their passionate supporters, held on for a much celebrated victory.