Defensive masterclass sees Australia over the line

Despite being reduced to 13 men at one point Australia held out to top Pool A

Wales 6 Australia 15

Wales lost to Australia for the 11th time in succession, the last five of which have been by a single score; but this defeat is going to smart the most. They’ll wonder just how they contrived to lose a game against a side that were down to 13 players at one point, with the Wallabies facing a series of scrums and lineouts in the shadow of their own posts.

Australian defiance during that period after losing Will Genia and Dean Mumm to yellow cards in the 56th and 59th minutes respectively was staggering but Wales must look closer to home when looking for a reason why they didn't capitalise.

Twice all that was required was to put the ball though the hands and avail of the numbers out wide; twice they chose to let Jamie Roberts crash it up. Toby Faletau lost the ball over the line on another occasion and George North was dragged to the ground when a try seemed a certainty.


Welsh coach Warren Gatland may have gone a little greyer. It’s not that Wales were the better side but having been second best after a fine opening 15-minutes in the first half, they were on the outskirts of the game, trailing 12-6, when the Aussies looked to have self destructed through ill discipline.

This was a massive win for the Wallabies, and while there were only sporadic glimpses of the running rugby and sharp angles of previous wins this one was down to bloody mindedness; that and dominance at the scrum, which proved a lucrative source of points.

They too will have to look at their shortcomings, discipline a massive issue in that respect, the lineout a less serious one and the number of turnovers but the glare will seem less harsh in victory.

Both teams will have issues with the officiating but will get little satisfaction from that debate.Australia’s pack in particular, Scott Fardy, Sean McMahon, David Pocock until their withdrawal, Kane Douglas and Stephen Moore were outstanding and won their personal duels.

Indiscipline permeated the opening 40 minutes with Australia more sinned against than sinning as Wales conceded eight penalties to their opponents five. Most were avoidable, some for offences that would fall into the silly category.

It wasn’t until the 35th minute that referee Craig Joubert warned Wales that the next transgression in their half of the pitch would be accompanied by a yellow card for the transgressor.

The South African official was a hesitant presence in the sense that he let a fair bit go, which encouraged the players to push the boundaries, and only intervened largely at the behest of his assistant referees; well at least the two official ones because there was plenty of chirping from the players who were quick to advise him on what he should do.

The first half was a staccato affair, the tone set from the opening scrum of the match, when Australia went to get a nudge on, lost control of the ball, and then had to scramble to catch Welsh scrumhalf Gareth Davies a couple of metres short of the line.

Wales moved the ball across the far touchline with George North held up over the line. From the ensuing scrum, the Aussies strayed offside and Dan Biggar gave Wales a 3-0 lead with a beautifully struck penalty.

Both teams were long on testosterone but there was precious little coherence and rhythm to the game based on a spiralling error-rate. The breakdown was hotly contested, rarely legally, and this led to a glut of penalties. The respective backlines crept up past the hindmost foot, space at a premium.

Bernard Foley kicked three penalties from as many opportunities, none straightforward, while Dan Biggar had the chance to do likewise, but with arguably his ‘easiest’ chance from about 38-metres in front of the posts pulled it side: it was his first miss in the tournament.

Matt Giteau did have a chance with the final play of the game to kick a penalty from three metres inside his own half but the ball dropped well short. Australia did have one great chance after electing to go to the corner with a kickable penalty but after getting to within a metre of the whitewash, Joubert came back for a penalty, which Foley landed.

Wales will reflect on a superb opening 15 minutes where they dominated territorially and in the possession stakes but thereafter struggled to make Wallabies conceding eight to Wales’ three.

The opening stanzas of the second half lacked coherence, the Australians, long on ambition but short on precision. Still they nudged further ahead when Faletua conceded a second kickable penalty, this time for a neck-roll clear-out at a ruck inside his 22. Foley tapped it over to make it 12-6.

The next chapter can be filed under ‘how did Wales not score a try?’ It was difficult to fathom but massive credit to Australia’s goal-line defence and scrambling that was, well, astounding.

The Wallabies had two men in the sin bin with three minutes, Will Genia for an early tackle on his Welsh counterpart, Davies, and then Dean Mumm, on 59 minutes for wrapping his arms around the jumper in the air at a lineout.

From a sequence of lineouts and in particular scrums, a 13-man Australia, somehow kept the red hordes at bay, twice by miniscule margins; Faletau lost control of the ball over the line and George North was held up in the opposite corner.

However for all the Aussies heroics, Welsh coach Warren Gatland will wonder how his backs butchered two gilt edged chances, seeking contact, in sending Jamie Roberts crashing into defenders instead of simply moving the ball wide where they had a numerical advantage.

To do it once was to err but to repeat the myopia was to prove catastrophic. Davies then picked early from a five-metre scrum that was inching towards the Wallaby line. Australia lifted the siege when Adam Ashley Cooper made a thumping tackle on Dan Biggar, winning a penalty as the Welsh outhalf failed to release after the tackle.

The ovation that exploded from the Aussie supporters in the stand was deafening. The body language of the Welsh players needed no explanation. Australia, like all good teams and restored to their full complement, maximised the let-off, Izzy Folau’s mesmeric footwork taking them into the Welsh 22.

Wales were caught offside, Foley kicked the penalty and with nine minutes left the outcome had been decided. There was still time for Welsh wing Alex Cuthbert to be yellow carded for deliberating knocking on and also for Foley to pull a penalty wide.

It didn’t matter; the hard work had been done. Australia go forward to meet Scotland and for Wales and their tired, battered bodies, they must drag them to a quarterfinal date with the Springboks.

Scoring sequence

4 mins: Biggar penalty, 3-0; 24: Foley penalty, 3-3; 31: Foley penalty, 3-6; 33: Biggar penalty, 6-6; 36: Foley penalty, 6-9. Halftime: 6-9. 50: Foley penalty, 6-12; 71: Foley penalty, 6-15.

Wales: G Anscombe; A Cuthbert, G North, J Roberts, L Williams; D Biggar, G Davies; P James, S Baldwin, S Lee; L Charteris, A Wyn Jones; S Warburton (capt), J Tipuric, T Faletau. Replacements: T Francis for Lee 53 mins; K Owens for Baldwin 71 mins; A Jarvis for James 71 mins; R Moriarty for Tipuric 71 mins; R Priestland for Biggar 73 mins; J Hook for Liam Williams 73 mins; Lloyd Williams for Roberts 79 mins.

Australia: I Folau; A Ashley-Cooper, T Kuridrani, M Giteau, D Mitchell; B Foley, W Genia; S Sio, S Moore, S Kepu; K Douglas, D Mumm; S Fardy, S McMahon, D Pocock. Replacements: B McCalman for McMahon 48 mins; G Holmes for Kepu 55 mins; R Simmons for Pocock 59 mins; J Slipper for Sio 62 mins; K Beale for Mitchell 66 mins; M Toomua for Giteau 66 mins; T Polota-Nau for Moore 66 mins; N Phipps for Genia 67 mins.

Referee: C Joubert (South Africa)

Yellow card: W Genia (Australia) 56 mins; D Mumm (Australia) 59 mins; A Cuthbert (Wales) 76 mins.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer