Dogged Australians prevail as Wales are left to rue lost chances
Failure to capitalise when Wallabies reduced to 13 men sees proves so costly for Wales
Australia outhalf Bernard Foley is challenged by three Welsh tacklers. Foley kicked all his team’s points via five penalties. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Australia 15 Wales 6
Lady luck decided to bestow her favours on Australia. The accepted wisdom is that good fortune is earned by dint of hard work and the 13-man Wallabies’ at times astounding goal-line defence certainly qualified in that respect.
But beyond that they still required Wales to implode.
Quite how Wales failed to score a try in the third quarter of the match is not a mystery, because the evidence of their shortcomings can be catalogued from one hapless misadventure to the next, but only the hard-hearted could not have felt sympathy. They earned a try several times over.
Wales, decimated by injury – Liam Williams can be added to those who will take no further part in the tournament after he pulled up lame with a foot problem during the match – were admirably courageous but they’ll appreciate that they contributed to their own downfall.
Toby Faletau dropped the ball as he lunged for the whitewash; excellent scrumhalf Gareth Davies prematurely plucked a ball from a Welsh scrum that was crabbing their way to the Australian line and George North decided to step inside rather than accelerate for the corner flag.
There were other instances. Twice Jamie Roberts thundered into contact in the shadow of the Australian posts when a ball out-the-back would have allowed Wales to find the solution to a simple numbers game.
A try might not have won the game for Warren Gatland’s side but in not scoring during that time slot, they effectively ceded the momentum and the match.
Australia lost Will Genia (56 minutes) and Dean Mumm (59 minutes) to yellow cards. Wales laid siege to the Wallaby line but when the brawn of lineout maul and scrum failed to breach the green and gold wall, they found no joy through their backs.
Wales captain Sam Warburton admitted: “We backed ourselves in the corner. They were one or two men down and you have to give Australia credit for defending like that . . .
“We were aggressive in the contact areas, there’s a lot of positives to take out of it but obviously when we spend that much time in their 22 we’ve got to come away with a try really. If we had managed to do that it would have really put Australia under pressure.”
At that point in the match Wales trailed 12-6; Aussie outhalf Bernard Foley kicked four penalties to a brace from his Welsh counterpart Dan Biggar, who missed one just before the interval.
Warburton continued: “It is disappointing that we didn’t manage to get more from the scrum, more from the driving lineout considering they were a man down in the pack.
“Sometimes you just have to put your hand up and say they defended great. I’m still quite proud of the effort from our guys. We backed ourselves and I couldn’t have asked for any more. At least I can sit here and not have any regrets.”
Monday’s review may inspire one or two.
Adam Ashley Cooper’s thumping tackle that ultimately forced Wales to concede a penalty drew a deafening guttural ovation from the Wallaby supporters. Energised, Australia dominated, the closing 15 minutes, Foley tagging on one penalty from two opportunities.
The victors will reflect on a number of issues that were central to the win; the impact of the bench being a primary one and individual performances like those of Sean McMahon, Foley, Kane Douglas, Scott Fardy, David Pocock, Matt Giteau, leaders all beneath the canny stewardship of hooker and captain Stephen Moore.
There was more than just brute force to Australia’s defence. They mixed, rushing up with sliding laterally, and around the fringes, they were low, aggressive and crucially, organised.
Moore explained: “When you are out there at the time you just want guys to do their job. In practice you speak about being a man down but we were two men down. Everyone has a very specific role and you just want guys to execute that.
“I think the guys that came off the bench had a huge impact in those parts of the game. Ben McCalman made a real try saver; those moments are really important. It’s about guys doing their job well.”
The Wallabies collectively are the embodiment of their coach, Michael Cheika, a steel hand inside the velvet glove. He was happy and proud in the aftermath but not oblivious to the flaws in the performance.
“It was a different type for us to the games we have played so far. We had to show a different skin. There were plenty of imperfections in our game and that s something we are going to have to improve before we get to the quarter-final,” Cheika explained.
He refuses to take any succour in what many perceive to be an easy pathway in the knockout stage of the tournament. “There is no favourable side of the draw. The only favourable thing is that you are in it. It’s all tough games, knockout; you can’t get away with a bad game and make it up.
“You don’t need to look very hard apart at the way some of the games have gone in the tournament to think that any opponent is easier or harder. As the gentleman said before Australia has lost to Scotland the last couple of times; maybe that’s because they thought that . . .well we won’t be thinking that this week.”
His mantra doesn’t change. It’s about the integrity of the preparation; always looking forward.
Scoring sequence – 4 mins: Biggar pen, 3-0; 24: Foley pen, 3-3; 31: Foley pen, 3-6; 33: Biggar pen, 6-6; 36: Foley pen, 6-9. Half-time: 6-9. 50: Foley pen, 6-12; 71: Foley pen, 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. Sin Bin: Cuthbert (77).
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. Sin Bin: Genia (57), Mumm (60).
Referee: C Joubert (South Africa).