Australia 27 Wales 19
Wallabies down Wales in Brisbane
Wycliff Palu of the Wallabies is tackled by Gethin Jenkins of Wales. Photo: Chris Hyde
The Wallabies' pressure valve was momentarily eased as they rediscovered their ability to win tough, dramatic internationals, rallying at the right time to defeat Wales in the first Test at Suncorp Stadium last night.
The under-threat Wallabies coach Robbie Deans was breathing far more easily when his team kept its head against the Six Nations grand slam champions, thwarting numerous dangerous charges to win a quality international. And Deans will be forever grateful to Will Genia, David Pocock, Scott Higginbotham, Berrick Barnes and co for getting him out of the mire, enabling them to rebound after being humiliated by Scotland on Tuesday night.
Clear skies and a vastly improved effort at the breakdown enabled the Wallabies to use the first half and most of the second to dominate possession, get clear of their opponents and eradicate the memories of Newcastle.
As the Scotland Test emphasised, the Wallabies are no mudlarks. But when the weather is fine, the track is dry and they don't have to cope with a slippery ball, they show they actually have some idea about Test football.
The first half wasn't perfect. Rob Simmons and Cooper Vuna missed easy tackles while Rob Horne was guilty of hogging the ball when a try would have been scored in the opening quarter if he had just passed along the line. But overall the standard of Australian play was encouraging because the Wallabies again discovered the benefits of playing fast, front-foot ball. You can control possession, determine exactly where the game will be played, and manipulate your opponents. You also look decisive. Points become a lot easier to tally.
The most critical difference between Newcastle and last night was the Australian breakdown work was far more effective. Pocock reigned supreme, showing yet again the best way for a Wallabies captain to get his team to rally is to lead by example. With his fellow back-rowers Wycliff Palu, Higginbotham and replacement Michael Hooper near his shoulder, they worked as a hit-man squad, often winning contested possession, and making their halfback Genia's job so much easier.
Whenever a team gets on top of the Wallabies, it invariably involves them effectively hassling Genia and nullifying his space. Scotland did that. Wales didn't in the first half and, for a change, Genia had the advantage of having time on his side and vast territory to roam.
Suddenly Genia was able to snipe away at the advantage line, make occasional breaks, and repeatedly change the team's direction, because he wasn't being hassled by opposition marauders. This had the effect of allowing the Wallabies to play far more cleanly, play with better rhythm and ensure that for most of the first half they were hovering near the Welsh goal line.
There was only one try in the first half, when Higginbotham burrowed over in the 15th minute following a succession of pick and drives, but there should have been another a few minutes earlier when Horne ignored an overlap and opted against passing to winger Digby Ioane who was in the clear. Horne was bound up by the Welsh defence and the moment was lost. Then Genia provided the ideal start to the second half by producing a stunning dummy to get through the Welsh defence and charge off, bouncing off defenders, to score an exceptional solo try that gave the Wallabies a 14-point lead. Barnes continued with a field goal - something he couldn't do in Newcastle.
Then came the Welsh revival. A succession of Welsh penalty goals was followed by winger Alex Cuthbert scoring in the 58th minute following a classic pop-up pass from Ashley Beck, and the Test was again in the balance. In the final quarter, it came down to which team made the fewest errors and handled the big moments. The Wallabies did that - especially when centre Pat McCabe ran a great attacking line to take advantage of a precise pass from Genia to give the Wallabies their third try in the 67th minute and some breathing space. Enough breathing space to lead to a good Test victory.
AUSTRALIA 27 (Will Genia, Scott Higginbotham, Pat McCabe tries Berrick Barnes 3 cons pen drop goal) bt WALES 19 (Alex Cuthbert try Leigh Halfpenny con 4 pens) at Suncorp Stadium. Referee: Craig Joubert. Crowd: 42,788.