Australia record ninth straight victory over Wales
Quade Cooper inspirational as Wallabies complete tour with victory
Australia’s Joe Tomane scores a try against Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Photograph: Tim Ireland/PA
Wales 26 Australia 30: Wales’ agony against Australia continued at the Millennium Stadium as they suffered a ninth successive defeat after being left spellbound by Wallabies magician Quade Cooper.
It was also an 18th reversal on the bounce for Wales at the hands of major southern-hemisphere opposition, and they will take little comfort from having played their part in an immense Test match.
Outhalf Cooper ran the show, although his sin-binning five minutes from time left Australia sweating, but it was his fellow midfield back Christian Leali’ifano who stole scoring honours through a 20-point haul from a try, three penalties and three conversions, while fullback Israel Folau and wing Joe Tomane also touched down.
Wing George North scored two tries – his second after moving to centre midway through the second-half – with Leigh Halfpenny kicking eight points and outhalf Dan Biggar matching him by booting two penalties and a conversion.
Wales had their chances, yet they had no answer at times to a brilliant Wallabies back division orchestrated by Cooper.
They still have not beaten Australia since 2008. It was a sobering defeat with the Wallabies featuring in their 2015 World Cup pool, and not what coach Warren Gatland wanted heading into next February’s Six Nations title defence.
Ultimately, Australia had too much flair and invention for Wales, and the Wallabies pack also stood up to everything that was thrown at them, underpinning a deserved triumph.
Wales made a stunning start, taking the lead after just 70 seconds when North conjured a magnificent finish from deep inside his own half.
Wallabies dangerman Folau ran menacingly towards Wales’ 22, but, when the attack broke down, lock Alun-Wyn Jones won turnover ball and Scott Williams sent North away, with the Northampton wing winning a thrilling foot-race after Adam Ashley-Cooper blundered by kicking the ball backwards towards his own line.
Halfpenny kicked the touchline conversion – his 17th successful strike from 18 attempts this autumn – and Wales were off and running.
The Wales fullback then kicked a penalty, but it was quickly cancelled out as Leali’ifano accepted an easy chance, ensuring the game continued to race along at almost a point per minute.
Australia had plenty of possession, yet they were also prone to conceding penalties, and Halfpenny made them pay again when he found his range from 48 metres.
But, just when Wales thought they might have established a degree of control, Australia hit them with a blistering score that owed everything to brilliant handling.
Wales hooker Richard Hibbard conceded turnover ball, and the Wallabies quickly moved possession wide before Cooper’s one-handed pass to Tomane saw Tomane find Leali’ifano on an inside angle, and the centre touched down before converting his own try.
It was pulsating, enthralling rugby and Wales moved 16-10 ahead when Biggar landed an angled short-range penalty after taking over kicking duties from Halfpenny.
Back came Australia, though, and more deft passing by Cooper split open Wales’ defence only for scrumhalf Will Genia to spill Tomane’s inside ball with the line at his mercy.
Wales knew they were lucky to escape without conceding another try, and Biggar blotted his copybook by being sin-binned for killing Australian possession.
The Wallabies immediately made him pay as Folau sniped over for Australia’s second try, which Leali’ifano converted to end a breathless half – remarkably, one without a scrum – with the Wallabies one point ahead.
Wales prop Gethin Jenkins did not reappear for the second period and was replaced by Ryan Bevington, and Australia picked from where they left off as Leali’ifano slotted another penalty.
The game’s first scrum arrived after 46 minutes just five metres from Wales’ line, but they were able to clear the danger and give themselves a respite from what had become relentless attacking by Australia.
Back came the Wallabies for more, though, and Tomane scored in the corner after he scooped up Folau’s pass off the floor.
Wales somehow had to claw themselves back into the contest, and they managed it through a 59th-minute try from North when he cut a devastating midfield angle after being switched to centre.
Biggar’s conversion cut the deficit to seven points and set up a pulsating final quarter with neither side prepared to give an inch.
The Ospreys playmaker then landed a penalty with 12 minutes left that gave Wales renewed hope, which was a cue for the Wallabies to try to close out an absorbing encounter, and they managing it despite Cooper’s yellow card.