The game really couldn’t have started worse for Australia — losing the restart as per usual and then Barnes kicking out on the full in the first minute. From that error, Wales employed a front-of-lineout move. A number of phases later deep in Australian territory, George North picked and went to score on the 4th minute, with the conversion following.
From this inauspicious start, play was an arm-wrestle and it was noticeable that the realignment of Wallabies forward runners was not so quick this week.
The Wallabies gradually started to build control, however, and good phase play off slow ball 20 minutes in resulted in a penalty, 3-7. Wales infringing again at the breakdown in their own 22 at 30 minutes took it to 6-7.
Australia continued building phases, but it was slow going. As Rocky Elsom said in G&GR PlayUP hangout
Seems like the welsh have loaded up another defender around the ruck to stop Will. If we execute properly we should have space out wide
At last there was some air, when on the 39th minute following a Wallabies line-out on the Welsh 40 Barnes saw half a gap, dummied and went through the line past the Welsh captain, and sent Horne over. It was 13-7 at oranges.
By the end of this first half, Australia had 67% of possession and 66% territory, but Wales had played the referee Pollock well, slowing the breakdown and rushing in defence, making this a real arm-wrestle.
The two teams began the second half like they did the first — a misfire pass to nobody by Genia resulted in a try to Welsh 13 Jonathan Davies, making the score 13-14.
What ensued was a see-sawing of penalty goals that swapped the lead every five minutes.
Barnes slotted penalty on 47th minute: 16-14.
The first penalty for offside came at 50 minutes, but was against Palu. Halfpenny, who kicked flawlessly all night, made it 16-17.
With advantage following a snipe from Genia, Barnes chipped the Welsh line. It was regathered by Ioane and the Wallabies went to the line, to only come away with a penalty at the 57th minute. 19-17.
In the 59th minute Cooper Vuna‘s brain exploded live on national television and he was yellow carded for taking Halfpenny out in the air. Despite the northern hemisphere TV commentators demanding a red, Halfpenny miraculously recovered to slot the ensuing penalty. It was 19-20 with 20 to go.
The teams got even cagier from that point, the Wallabies eventually winning a kicking duel to earn a lineout in the Welsh half. Wales infringed yet again at the breakdown and it was 22-20 after 65 minutes.
Alexander then replaced Benn Robinson and was penalised instantly at the scrum. Halfpenny didn’t miss. 22-23 after 66 minutes.
At this pint it got tighter than a gnat’s chuff. With five minutes left, the Wallabies scrum earned a penalty and Barnes stepped up. He was limping though and missed the attempt, hobbling off the field for Mike Harris to take the 10 spot.
In the following exchanges it was all about territory until the Welsh infringed yet again at the breakdown, and the Wallabies had a lineout on the Welsh 40 with only seconds left. The men in gold set a driving maul as the donga sounded and it was all hands to the pump as the juggernaut drove forward. Cap’n Poey (who had given his opposite Warburton another lesson this week) had the ball under his Popeye bicep at the back and shunted forward until the Welsh dropped the maul. Pollock decided to play no advantage, and gave Australia a shot 15 metres in, on the Welsh 22.
Up stepped AUSSIE MIKE HARRIS. Would he miss?
Fark no. Game over.
While the lead see-sawed, clearly one team played the majority of the rugby today and probably rightly took the win. Like we’ve become used to with the Wallabies under Deans, it’s never a performance without gaping holes — of which some like re-starts have been endemic for so long. Without doubt though, this side played positively and with belief against the best the North has to offer.
AUSTRALIA 25 (Rob Horne try Berrick Barnes con Barnes 5, Michael Harris pens) bt WALES 23 (Jonathan Davies, George North tries Leigh Halfpenny 2 cons 3 pens) at Etihad Stadium. Referee: Chris Pollock. Crowd: 33,888.