WALES 26 AUSTRALIA 30
Man of the match: Wallabies five-eighth Quade Cooper. Photo: Getty Images
CARDIFF: A desperate Australia defended a four-point lead with 14 ragged men holding on to secure the Wallabies a 30-26 victory and a ninth-straight win over Six Nations champions Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.
Tries to Christian Leali'ifano, Israel Folau and Joe Tomane built Australia a 14-point buffer by the 55th minute.
Joe Tomane of Australia offloads to Christian Leali'ifano for the Wallabies to score their opening try. Photo: Getty Images
|View Match Statistics|
|Players||North (2min, 59min)||Tries||2||Tries||3||Players||Lealiifano (19min), Folau (37min), Tomane (49min)|
|Players||Biggar 1/1 (100%), Halfpenny 1/1 (100%)||Conversions||2||Conversions||3||Players||Lealiifano 3/3 (100%)|
|Players||Biggar 1/1 (100%), Halfpenny 2/3 (66%), Priestland 1/1 (100%)||Penalty goals||4||Penalty goals||3||Players||Lealiifano 3/3 (100%)|
|Players||Drop goals||0||Drop goals||0||Players||Cooper 0/1 (0%)|
But a tsunami-like momentum shift triggered by a try to power winger George North looked to have set the stage for a remarkable Welsh comeback.
It was aided by a controversial yellow card to Quade Cooper for an early tackle on centre Scott Williams in the 75th minute.
The Wallabies found themselves pinned in their 22, holding back a red tide, with one man down for what felt like the longest five minutes since the 2011 World Cup quarter-final against South Africa.
Recrod-breaker: Israel Folau scored his 10th try of the seaon. Photo: Getty Images
But the Wallabies held on in front of 67,400 despondent Welsh fans under the closed Millennium Stadium roof to notch their fourth-straight win under Ewen McKenzie and a dream end to one of the toughest seasons in living memory.
Wales were on top after two minutes after a counter-attacking try from North.
The home side pounced on a dropped ball by Tomane and North grubbered a kick down the left flank.
Tomane dives over after scooping up a flat pass from Israel Folau. Photo: Getty Images
He was well-covered by two gold jerseys but outside centre Adam Ashley-Cooper accidentally kicked the ball, leaving North perfectly placed to pounce and ground it for the home side's first five points.
Leigh Halfpenny converted to make it 7-0 and added another three to put Wales in front by 10 unanswered points with 11 minutes gone.
Australia found the scoreboard in the 14th minute, with Christian Leali'ifano slotting an easy kick in front of the posts, but Wales added another three to protect the 10-point buffer.
Wallabies victorious over Wales
Wales winger George North crosses for the first try of the game. Photo: Getty Images
The Wallabies' first try came about thanks to a brilliant pilfer by John Eales medallist Michael Hooper and good vision from outside centre Ashley-Cooper, who spotted an opportunity on the other side of the field.
The 91-Test centre called furiously for play to be brought out wide and Will Genia delivered, putting it into the hands of his No.13.
What happened next was an insight into the potential of the Wallabies' attack.
Controversial call: Cooper is a yellow card by referee Wayne Barnes. Photo: Getty Images
Ashley-Cooper gave it to Cooper, who had sprinted over to be part of the play and the Australian five-eighth let loose a no-look flick pass to Tomane on the wing.
He shot it back inside to Leali'ifano, who ran through to score. It was brilliant play that would have made attack coach Jim McKay pound the desk in the coaches' box.
Elsewhere though, Australia's attack was frustrated by its own inaccuracy. Shortly after Genia knocked on a pass from Tomane to ruin a certain try and Leali'ifano delivered the ball into the hands of North - instead of a Wallabies teammate - moments later.
The Wallabies were behind on the scoreboard but on top of the Welsh and Folau went close to scoring in the corner but was pulled up just short.
Referee Wayne Barnes showed a yellow card to Welsh five-eighth Dan Biggar for slowing the ball down after the tackle on Folau and the Wallabies went in for the kill. Fittingly, it was Folau who scored with his 10th Test try for 2013, equalling the record for most tries scored in a single season by a Wallaby.
It was a ferocious passage of play. The Wallabies survived two devastating hits from Welsh defenders North and Richard Hibbard to keep the ball alive, Genia eventually sending a stunning pass to his fullback, who scored with inside centre Scott Williams and Halfpenny on his back.
Leali'ifano converted to put Australia in front, 17-16, for the first time in the match.
Not a single scrum was set in the entire half.
The Wallabies ratchet up the pressure in the second half. Winger Nick Cummins went close twice, but lost the ball in his second probe at the line, leading to the first scrum of the game, 47 minutes in.
Australia held on to possession, sending wave after relentless wave at the Welsh line.
They broke through for their third try in the corner in the 49th minute. Tomane took a flat - the home crowd thought forward - pass from Folau. Barnes took his time with the replay but ruled it okay.
Leali'ifano converted and then added another three points - thanks to another steal from Mowen - to make it 30-16. Wales had been shut out of the first 15 minutes of the second half and were being run off their feet by the expansive play of the Wallabies.
Australia showed grit in defence when Wales decided to come back to the party, getting a crucial penalty to defuse their first assault.
But North slipped passed Scott Fardy and scored to mount the feared Welsh comeback, with Halfpenny converting to make it 30-23.
The penalty count came back to haunt the Wallabies in the final 20 minutes, giving Wales a further leg up.
They did not waste it, coming away with three points after replacement five-eighth Rhys Priestland kicked an easy penalty.
After being 14 points ahead at one point, the Wallabies found themselves defending a four-point lead with 11 minutes to go.
They survived, despite the loss of Cooper, who was named man-of-the-match, and will go home buoyed by the hard-fought gains from the final month of their season.
AUSTRALIA 30 (Israel Folau, Christian Leali'ifano, Joseph Tomane tries Leali'ifano 3 cons 3 pens) bt WALES 26 (George North 2 tries Daniel Biggar, Leigh Halfpenny cons Halfpenny 2, Biggar, Rhys Priestland pens) at Millennium Stadium. Referee: Wayne Barnes.