Australia beat Wales with a gutsy performance
The overwhelming majority of a 58,000 crowd were not bothered by what had been a tryless affair until the final seconds.
This was all about Wales rediscovering a winning formula, and they went agonisingly close to achieving it.
Australia have been recently criticized but they answered some critics with a ‘never-say-die’ attitude that won the game in the dying seconds.
Wales, under interim head coach Rob Howley’s direction, will begin their RBS 6 Nations title defence against Ireland in Cardiff on February 2, and it is a game that they can now at least look forward to with confidence, despite the Wallabies loss.
Luke Charteris took a hefty blow to his shoulder and head while attempting a tackle on Wallabies flanker Scott Higginbotham, and Ryan Jones took over from the Perpignan forward, who was helped off before returning shortly afterwards.
Beale, meanwhile, missed an early penalty chance for the visitors, and it took Wales almost eight minutes to relieve pressure in or around their own 22.
Wales finally stirred when they ambitiously ran the ball from behind their own line and wing Alex Cuthbert sprinted 60 metres before he was tackled into touch by Wallabies full-back Berrick Barnes.
Even though their sense of adventure had been suppressed by Barnes’ quality defensive work, Wales at least looked in the mood to produce some quality attacking rugby.
Beale, though, booted a 50-metre penalty to open the scoring, before Halfpenny struck an equalising kick from two metres inside his own half.
It meant ended the opening quarter ended 3-3, but Wales continued to increase the tempo following an uncertain beginning, and Halfpenny’s second successful penalty rewarded rewarded impressive work by a pumped-up pack.
Halfpenny, comfortably Wales’ most consistent player of the autumn, then ran aggressively from deep to set up a scoring chance.
His kick into space bounced behind Australia’s line, but Wallabies number eight Wycliff Palu just nudged out Wales captain Sam Warburton in a desperate scramble for the ball.
Australia responded to that hairline escape when another long-range Beale penalty tied it up at 6-6 as both sides continued sparring away at each other in search of an opening.
Palu was then fortunate to escape a yellow card after a high tackle on Wales hooker Matthew Rees, and the home side continued to look most likely in terms of breaking the try deadlock.
But a third Beale penalty put Australia three points in front after Roberts was punished for not rolling away in the tackle, and Halfpenny missed a penalty with the half’s final kick.
Australia looked to move possession wide early in the second period, and Wales were stretched at times. They also needed Lady Luck on their side when Barnes ignored a three-man attacking overlap by kicking instead.
A third Halfpenny strike tied the game up again after 54 minutes, and then he restored Wales’ advantage six minutes later to set up an intriguing finale.
But it was not to be as Australia celebrated and Wales once again were left wondering what might have been.
The game had looked to be going Wales’s way at 12-9 with a minute to play, but replacement flanker Dave Dennis found a metre of space out wide with the Welsh defence flagging and fed Beale, who outpaced Alex Cuthbert to the corner.
by Terence Johns