Cardiff - Dan Biggar hit a late penalty to help Wales edge Australia
9-6 on Saturday and buck a 10-year, 13-match losing streak against the
Psychological one-upmanship was up for grabs in a dress
rehearsal of what had been billed a pool-deciding match at next year's Rugby
But neither side shone from an attacking point of view in
what was a true defensive slugfest, albeit intense, at Cardiff's Principality
Stadium where there was little reward for all the hard-hitting hustle and
The score at half-time was locked at 3-3 thanks to one penalty
apiece by Leigh Halfpenny and Bernard Foley, the misfiring Welsh fullback
adding one more before going off injured while Matt Toomua hit Australia's
second late in the game before Biggar knocked over the winning score with two
minutes to play to extend Wales' winning streak to seven games - the best since
the 2004/5 season.
Wales dominated territory and possession in the opening 15
minutes, but the well-drilled Australian defence remained resolute in an
indicator of what was to come.
That could only last so long, however, before someone
infringed and so it proved with forwards straying offside from a ruck.
Halfpenny went wide with the relatively easy opportunity.
Both sides seemed keen on running everything, but for all
the earnest endeavour it was not the most entertaining spectacle.
Errors were few, Australia looked by far the more skilful
side and Wales seemed limited in attack as defence kept its iron grip on a game
that was nothing if not intense.
The Australian set-piece started to look somewhat creaky and
a deliberate wheel at scrum time gifted Halfpenny a second chance, the
full-back making no mistake from the tee this time around.
An Adam Coleman knock-on put pay to Australia's best showing
in attack, the lock spilling the ball deep in the Welsh 22m area with the home
side under the cosh. Foley equalled the score in the 33rd minute after Dan
Lydiate strayed offside in midfield.
The Wallabies were on top immediately after, but Coleman was
left isolated after another succession of phases in the so-called "red
zone" in what coach Michael Cheika would put down as a missed opportunity
to grab some more points.
An uncharacteristically off-target Halfpenny was left
clutching his head when he missed his second penalty on the stroke of half-time
after Wallaby hooker Tolu Latu played the ball off his feet at a ruck.
Halfpenny was at the heart of the action early in the second
period, however, first with a smart chase and catch off fly-half Gareth
Anscombe's up-and-under and then latching onto George North's clever tapdown
from an Anscombe kick-pass.
But it was all to no avail as the Wallaby rush defence
picked off the Welsh attackers.
Foley spurned a second kickable penalty in the 49th minute,
but there was a knock-on from the ensuing attacking corner line-out.
Australian flyhalf again opted for touch a few minutes later, but Latu
overthrew and Wales rushed downfield.
Replacement hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau was then at fault,
pinged for playing the ball on the floor and this time Halfpenny made no
mistake to hand Wales the lead.
But amid deafening whistles after Halfpenny was seemingly
taken out late, Toomua levelled the scores with seven minutes to play.
And it was not over as Biggar stepped up after Ned Hanigan
failed to roll away from a ruck to fire home the winning penalty.