Wales edge Wallabies for first win
Wales edge Wallabies for first win: Ten years and 13 tests of pain and suffering ended in a raucous Principality din as Dan Biggar’s late penalty meant Wales snuck past Australia – at long, long last.
Not since 1958 had there been so few points in a match between these sides. 9-3 that day, 9-6 this with only penalties kicked.
So poor a match for so long, this one sparked into glorious life in the final throes.
Bernard Foley’s 75th minute penalty was greeted by great boos under the roof as it seemed all of Wales felt the injustice of a penalty for a late-tackle on Leigh Halfpenny from Samu Kerevi not given by the referee made worse by Australia levelling soon after.
But up the other end three minutes later Biggar banged over the winner to put this hex to bed. And his coaches jumped for joy.
Before kick-off up ripped the flames, bang went the fireworks. Then the roar, a crescendo of noise after all had fallen silent to remember the War dead.
This was on – Wales versus Australia. Here we go. Would the hoodoo end for Wales after 10 years and 13 defeats? What a test match in store – excitement and tension barely contained under the roof.
And then the rugby started.
There are some games where the scores are low, game is tight and the spectacle in enhanced. On the evidence of the first half this was not one of those days.
The breakdown battle was one of the more intriguing aspects of the opening 40 minutes – Justin Tipuric winning two brilliant turnovers to David Pocock’s one, both pill pilferers going at it at the rucks.
But that was about it. Australia had the attacking guile, but ultimately looked short of killer-instinct and cutting-edge in the Welsh 22. Indeed Adam Coleman managed to drop a simple pass near the Wales posts to spurn another attacking opportunity.
Losing seven of 10 tests this year means the Wallabies have lost their bounce.
You would think with Wales on a run of six victories on the spin that they would be flying – but everything they could muster was either too long, too short, too forced.
And then Halfpenny got the yips. Statically he is the second-best goal-kicker in the world. With a success rate of close to 83 per cent, of the main men in test rugby only Frenchman Maxime Machenaud – with 85.5 per cent – hits more of his goals.
His misses were shocking. Halfpenny contrived to shank his first effort wide, having lined it up just to the right of the posts from 35 metres out, and then his second on the stroke of half-time was worse.
Slap bang in front of the sticks he dragged it wide to the right again – these misses as rare as Welsh wins over the Australians.
That he took one penalty, when Wales won a third scrum penalty of the half after 21 minutes was a blessed relief.
But Bernard Foley levelled things up 11 minutes later, when Dan Lydiate strayed offside in midfield.
A half to send you to sleep woke you up with the sheer rarity of the Halfpenny botched kicks.
After the break more bad news for Wales. George North was off with a limp, replaced by Liam Williams, after seemingly injuring his right leg.
Australia knew they needed a try, so when the next penalty came they kicked to the corner. But the red wave flooded in and forced a knock-on from hooker Tolu Latu – one defensive shut-out to whip up the crowd at last.
Soon they had another shot. Australia turned down a simple kick again, but fluffed the lineout – Latu throwing long. Six points thrown away, and soon Wales up the other end.
Michael Cheika’s shepherd’s crook came out for Latu, with Tatafu Polota-Nau coming on.
By the hour mark still only six points had been scored – and it looked time to delve into the record books for the lowest-scoring Wales-Australia tests.
Only once had there been this few points – a 6-0 for Wales just after the second World War, that was commemorated before kick-off, the one to compare to at this point. Surely this would not replicate 1947?
And it was the lowest scoring Welsh match since 1974, when they beat Scotland 6-0 too – at least that match had a converted try.
Wales had their turn to force something from a lineout. Anscombe kicked a penalty to the corner, the Welsh bashed on and eventually won another – this time Polota-Nau with hands in the ruck.
Halfpenny lined it up. Dead in front like the last, and on the 22-metre line. Yips evaporated, kick over.
Suddenly, belatedly then all became frantic. Wales sniffed blood, and a first win over this foe in a decade. The crowd hit the ceiling when Halfpenny was hit late by Samu Kerevi after a clearance kick.
Howls, whistles, players pointing to the big screen. ‘Off, off, off,’ the fans roared.
But referee Ben O’Keeffe was unmoved. A scuffle in the stands had supporters on their feet too – suddenly this match had action on and off the pitch, and Australia had a penalty as Anscombe held on with Pocock above him.
A cacophony of noise greeted Foley’s strike. Nervelessly he hit in among the din to level the scores.
But the noise grew ever louder when Biggar – on for the felled Halfpenny – hit his penalty given when Ned Hanigan did not roll from a ruck.
Wales ahead again – and at the last against this lot, for the first time since 2008.