It’s a win and such is the number of caps missing from this outfit, Wales will take it. A young side found redemption with a winning penalty from veteran Rhys Priestland at the death. And so a mixed autumn has been salvaged with consecutive wins.
But they have both been achieved against teams reduced to 14 by early red cards. This time, Australia’s No 8 Rob Valetini was the man sent off for an upright tackle in which his head clashed with Adam Beard’s. The Wallabies autumn thus does not find the redemption of a single win against their European opponents. One would have to say they have themselves to blame. A clearly talented outfit, but missing key personnel they could not quite make it tell. A typically vociferous home crowd provided the edge.
But Wales will be as frustrated by these early red cards as anyone. Here is another win with an asterisk next to it, and a young side still does not quite know where it is as a result. But they can hardly be held to account for that.
Valetini thumped into Beard with upright posture. The clash of heads was violent and, in different ways, did for both men’s further involvement. Beard was replaced by Ben Carter, the 20-year-old lock, while Valetini’s technique was subject to an unsympathetic review by referee and crowd.
Annoying, too, for Australia, of course. All the more so, given they were a try up at that point. From the kick-off they put together a punishing series of phases. Nic White’s chip set Len Ikitau away, the mighty Taniela Tupou scattered a few with another carry, before Hunter Paisami put in a second chip behind the Welsh defence, to which Andrew Kellaway run the race.
Dan Biggar pulled back three points from the next kick-off, after obstruction by Izack Rodda, and his penalty after the red card, tucked Wales in a point behind. Another Tupou charge set up James O’Connor for his first penalty shot at goal, but within five minutes Australia were cursing their discipline again.
Kurtley Beale’s slapdown of Nick Tompkins’ pass, with Louis Rees-Zammit lurking menacingly outside, meant the Wallabies were reduced to 13 while he served time in the sin-bin.
A penalty try would not have been controversial, but Wales had their seven points from the resultant lineout. A lovely move at the front had Tomos Williams looping outside Ellis Jenkins, and Ryan Elias finished in the corner. Biggar landed the conversion from the touchline to give Wales the lead for the first time, which they held till the break after O’Connor and he exchanged a further penalty apiece.
Australia were their own worst enemies. The fate of Kellaway was instructive. His try was just the garnish on his threat, but he mistimed his leap for a high ball a few minutes before the break, took out Josh Adams for a penalty against and ended up hurting himself in the landing. Another Wallaby whose day suffered a premature end.
The theme continued after the break too. Kellaway’s replacement Tom Wright forced a pass, which Nick Tompkins patted down. Unlike Beale’s in the first half, Tompkins managed to hook his hand round the ball, so that it did not go forward. Everyone stopped, including Tompkins after he’d regathered, but the referee waved him on for an interception try and 10-point lead.
Wales’s authority evaporated after that and when Gareth Thomas saw yellow for an illegal clear-out, Australia enjoyed numerical parity for 10 minutes. Tellingly, they made it count with the try of the game, following that up with the next best try even after Thomas returned.
Beale has had his moments in this stadium over the years. This time his step inside Willis Halaholo was wicked, as was his fend on Aaron Wainwright. Ikitau was in support and found Nic White, who finished between the posts.
Then, just after Wales were returned to 15 men, Paisami broke Wales’s line, and swift hands gave Filipo Daugunu a chance in the corner, which he finished in great style. O’Connor hit the post with his conversion attempt, which meant Wales were still ahead by a point.
Not for long. Beale stepped up to land a penalty from 45 metres out with two minutes remaining to give Australia the lead.
Beale was almost away again, but for a tackle by Christ Tshiunza, but it was Gareth Davies who broke the game for the last time. His break had Wales hammering at Australia’s line at the death. The Wallabies infringed, and Priestland stepped up.
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