Wallabies deliver ‘freakish sucker punch’
AUSTRALIA fed off Wales' errors and ran in four tries in a clinical 29-21 victory in Cardiff on Sunday morning, extending its winning streak over the Welsh to 13 Test matches.
The Wallabies have played seven tests since their opponent's last, and their match sharpness told in the first half, when Wales paid the price for failing to clear its lines at restarts and its ambitious, high-tempo game plan.
Hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau rolled over at the back of a maul, lock Adam Coleman crashed over from close range, and flanker Michael Hooper squirmed over the line at an overlap to help Australia to a 22-13 lead at halftime.
Wales had the better of the second half under the Principality Stadium roof, but was hit by a sucker punch when fullback Kurtley Beale stole the ball from Steff Evans and raced 60m to ground the ball under the posts in the 63rd minute.
With the Wallabies up 22-16, Evans was racing down the left touchline as the home fans cheered him on. But about 15m into Australian territory Beale came across and ripped the ball from his grasp before running away himself to turn a dicey situation into a try for the visitors.
Wales' tries came courtesy of Evans and replacement Dragons paceman Hallam Amos, while Leigh Halfpenny kicked 11 points.
"We just hung in there today," Australia coach Michael Cheika told the BBC. "Wales played really well and were on the front foot from the first minute. We defended really well under difficult circumstances.
"The guys were up for it, they stopped a lot of short-range efforts from Wales but our winning mentality helped us hang in there."
Wales coach Warren Gatland added: "As the game went on we got stronger and if Kurtley Beale had not scored that freakish try, there was a good chance we could have gone on and won the game.
"Against a side of that quality you have to be more clinical. We are disappointed with the result but we tend to get stronger as a team as we go on."
To its credit Wales had the crowd on its feet for the majority of the game with the decision to implement a more expansive style of rugby resulting in an entertaining spectacle.
But the usual off-shoot of high risk rugby is more errors, with Gatland's men guilty of numerous handling mistakes.
They also struggled to effectively stop Australia's ball carriers, the Wallabies able to cross the gain line far too easily and dominate the breakdown.
Wales made a strong start when Halfpenny slotted a penalty from 30m after the Wallabies were deemed to be offside.
But the home side's opening points forced the visitors into action, Polota-Nau crossing for their first try. The Leicester-bound hooker found himself at the bottom of a powerful Australian driving lineout which the home side was unable to stop.
Wales hit straight back when Scarlets winger Evans crossed for his third try in as many Tests. The score came after his regional teammate Gareth Davies made a sniping break from his own half following a scrappy lineout.
The ball was then recycled going through the hands of Dan Biggar, Owen Williams and Jonathan Davies before Halfpenny put Evans over in the corner.
It didn't take long for Cheika's side to hit back when giant lock Coleman crossed from short range. The build-up to the try saw Aussie flyhalf Bernard Foley put in a neat cross-kick which was well covered by Halfpenny, but the ball was recycled and halfback Will Genia was able to put the second-rower over.
Wallabies sharpshooter Reece Hodge and Halfpenny exchanged penalties before Australian captain Hooper crossed for a simple try on the stroke of halftime meaning Cheika's men went 22-13 up.
Wales started the second half strongly, keeping hold of the ball far more effectively than in the first period. Its pressure was rewarded with three points from the boot of Halfpenny as he cut the deficit to just six points.
Wales continued to press with pocket dynamo Evans causing mayhem in the Australian ranks with his pace and electric footwork.
But again Wales' ambition was to be its undoing when Beale ripped the ball from the hands of Evans to race in unopposed and knock the stuffing out of the hosts.
Wales did have some reward for its pressure when Hooper was sent to the sin bin after he was judged to have entered a ruck from the side. With the flanker missing, the Welsh scrum was able to gain the upper hand, shoving the Wallabies back at a rate of knots.
But despite that, Wales could not turn pressure into points. Captain Alun Wyn Jones came close but he knocked the ball forward over the tryline.
The hosts did at least get a consolation try when Amos crossed in the left-hand corner following a perfectly weighted Jonathan Davies grubber, but it was all too little too late.
- AFP, AP