Australian rugby suffers its darkest hour in defeat to Wales

Country looks certain to fail to qualify for the knockout stages of a World Cup for the first time

Wales 40 Australia 6

Australian rugby suffered arguably its darkest hour in effectively failing to qualify for the knockout stages of a World Cup for the first time (Fiji need just five points from games against Portugal and Georgia to be assured of second place in Pool C). However, the manner of a record defeat was arguably more unpalatable to the Australian fans who let head coach Eddie Jones know exactly what they thought of him, roundly booing every time his face appeared on a stadium screen.

Wales were superb and are the first team to qualify for the knockout stage of the World Cup, an achievement they managed in some style. Their pack, after conceding a couple of scrum penalties, emphatically got on top in every facet of the game.

Having lost to Fiji Australia knew that anything other than a victory over Wales would not suffice and despite a promising opening quarter their cohesion and application disappeared, their performance increasingly ragged and disjointed. It culminated in a thrashing.

It’s been a tough week off the pitch for Australia with a story in the Sydney Morning Herald that beleaguered head coach Eddie Jones had held secret talks with the Japan Rugby Union in August about a position that will become vacant after the tournament and which he formerly held. Jones dismissed the speculation as nonsense.


Whatever about Australia’s travails, it should not detract from a superb Welsh performance, inventive, accurate, focused and with a ruthless intensity that eviscerated their opponents. Gareth Anscombe, an early replacement for the injured Dan Biggar, offered a virtuoso display at outhalf, particularly in the way he put the boot into Australia, landing 23 points.

Wales took the lead on two minutes, a slick training ground move that began with lineout ball off the top. Flanker Jac Morgan ran a superb inside trail line and his perfectly timed pass allowed Gareth Davies to accelerate under the posts. Dan Biggar converted.

Australia’s response was nearly as unequivocal but having thundered into Wales’ 22 by taking the ball wide they suddenly became narrow in orientation just short of the line when they had numbers, space and their strike runners further out. The Wallabies eventually settled for a penalty kicked by Ben Donaldson.

Wales then suffered a double whammy in quick succession, losing Biggar to a shoulder injury and then having their scrum marmalised, after which Donaldson kicked a second penalty.

The Australian outhalf then sliced through the Wales defence but then threw a pass that was intercepted by Davies. Josh Adams kicked into the space and chased but the ball crept over the try line and Andrew Kellaway was able to dot down for a goal line dropout.

The attacking intent from both sides was excellent, ensuring that an entertaining first quarter zipped along. Gareth Anscombe hit an upright with a penalty but atoned shortly afterwards as the Wallabies panicked and collapsed a Welsh driving maul.

With Australia back on the attack, live wire Tate McDermott complemented a half-break with a lovely, flicked offload, Rob Leota barrelled into the Welsh 22 taking play to within a few metres of the Welsh line. However, the Wallabies contrived to spurn the opportunity with an overthrown lineout after nudging a kickable penalty into the corner.

The mistake was compounded when Welsh captain Morgan booted the ball clear and earned a 50/22 lineout in the Aussie 22. Wales won a penalty at a ruck, Anscombe kicked them further ahead. When Rob Valentini dived on a loose ball at another breakdown, he was correctly penalised and Anscombe nudged his team out to a 16-6 lead.

Wales could all but have wrapped up the match if Louis Rees Zammit had managed to get the ball down over the line following a sweeping, heads-up attack on penalty advantage but couldn’t twist his body sufficiently.

The principal difference between the two teams in the first 40 minutes were that Gatland’s side were far more clinical in taking chances. Australia had more ball and territory but having made several line breaks were left to rue the final pass or decision.

It didn’t get any better for the Wallabies on the resumption, conceding first possession from a maul turnover and then a penalty at the ensuing scrum, which Anscombe landed. Australia looked demoralised, rattling through mistakes and were punished again on 48 minutes, Anscombe’s beautiful dink over the defence enabled Nick Tompkins to gather and cross for a try.

The bright contest of the first 20-minutes was now a rout as Anscombe continued to punish Aussie transgressions.

The Australian supporters, who had vented their disapproval by roundly booing every time Jones’ face appeared on one of the two giant stadium screens, left in their droves long before the final whistle, spared the embarrassment of having to watch the outstanding Morgan add another try from a lineout maul that raced over the try-line.

Scoring sequence

2 mins: Davies try, Biggar conversion, 7-0; 8: Donaldson penalty, 7-3; 11: Donaldson penalty, 7-6; 20: Anscombe penalty, 10-6; 28: Anscombe penalty, 13-6; 38: Anscombe penalty, 16-6. Half-time: 16-6. 42: Anscombe penalty, 19-6; 48: Tompkins try, Anscombe conversion, 26-6; 51: Anscombe penalty, 29-6; 58: Anscombe penalty, 32-6; 69: Anscombe drop goal, 35-6; 78: Morgan try, 40-6.

Australia: A Kellaway; M Nawaqanitawase, J Petaia, S Kerevi, M Koroibete; B Donaldson, T McDermott; A Bell, D Porecki (capt), J Slipper; N Frost, R Arnold, R Leota, T Hooper, R Valetini. Replacements: P Fa’amausili for Slipper half-time; F McReight for Leota 49 mins; C Gordon for Donaldson 53 mins; S Vunivalu for Kellaway 59 mins; M Faessler for Porecki 59 mins; B Schoupp for Bell 65 mins; M Philip for Arnold 65 mins; N White for McDermott 67 mins.

Wales: L Williams; L Rees-Zammit, G North, N Tompkins, J Adams; D Biggar, G Davies; G Thomas, R Elias, T Francis; W Rowlands, A Beard; A Wainwright, J Morgan (capt), T Faletau. Replacements: G Anscombe for Biggar 11 mins; T Williams for Davies 59 mins; E Dee for Elias 65 mins; C Domachowski for Thomas 65 mins; H Thomas for G Thomas 65 mins; D Jenkins for Rowlands 70 mins; T Basham for Wainwright 70 mins; R Dyer for Rees Zammit 70 mins.

Referee: W Barnes (England)

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer