Wales 18-21 Australia, Rugby World Cup, October 21
Australia edge out Wales in bronze final
October 19, 2011
Australia celebrate Berrick Barnes' first-half try
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Australia clinched third place in the 2011 Rugby World Cup with a narrow 21-18 victory over Wales in their clash at Eden Park in Auckland.
It was a bittersweet victory for the Wallabies who had man-of-the-match Berrick Barnes' first-half try to thank along with a second-half score from No.8 Ben McCalman. A serious knee injury to Quade Cooper midway through the first half - by which time Kurtley Beale had already left the field - marred the victory as the mercurial fly-half looked to have sustained damage to his anterior cruciate ligament ending a difficult World Cup for him on a sour note.
Wales never managed to find the pace and fluidity associated with their passage to the bronze final with their scores coming through winger Shane Williams and fullback Leigh Halfpenny in the second half.
The match had intriguing sub-plots with Sam Warburton-less Wales still feeling aggrieved after their heartbreaking loss to France, while the likes of Cooper were going all out to make amends after a poor performance against New Zealand. But it failed to reach the heights set by Argentina's epic win over France four years earlier in the equivalent match from the 2007 tournament, despite a promising start.
It was the Wallabies who started the match the better of the two sides, playing the sort of free-flowing rugby that saw them lift the Tri-Nations trophy prior to the World Cup. Australia laid siege on the Wales try line from the off and their early pressure paid off in the simplest of fashion. It was route one rugby as Will Genia's pass from the scrum about ten metres out found Cooper who put Barnes in under the posts.
Wales had an opportunity to strike back moments later as they put the ball through the hands with ease but Jamie Roberts' pass found touch-judge Romain Poite instead of the poised Shane Williams. But Wales did not have to wait long to post their first points on the board with James Hook slotting a penalty moments later.
The new-look Australia front-row was turning the screw on Wales and two penalties in two minutes - with both Gethin Jenkins and then Paul James penalised - brought the Wallabies within kicking range but James O'Connor's effort struck the post. And had it not been for the work of Ryan Jones on the turf, the Wallabies could have crossed the line soon after, but the former Wales captain turned in the graft on the turf to force the penalty and allow Wales to clear their lines.
With blood injuries blighting both sides, the momentum struggled to keep up with the standards set in the opening stages of the match and it was Wales who finished the half in the ascendancy, but Warren Gatland's charges failed to cut the deficit with a Halfpenny penalty missing wide of the right upright.
Wales started the second 40 in the same way they finished the first and, despite Hook missing a fairly simple penalty, they soon crossed the tryline. Hook sprinted through the midfield and although his pass to Shane Williams looked forward, the diminutive winger managed to keep the ball in touch, kick it ahead and dot the ball down to give Wales the lead. A difficult World Cup from Hook was compounded by a missed conversion and this proved to be his final say in the match as veteran half-back Stephen Jones readied himself.
O'Connor re-found his kicking boots to put Australia back into the lead a few minutes later, while the Wallabies' injury list showed no signs of abating with hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau limping off. And Wales' ill-discipline at the breakdown found them on the wrong side of Wayne Barnes' whistle soon after, with O'Connor slotted the points on offer once more.
The resulting five-point advantage meant Wales had to chase the game and a resolute Australia defence - which has performed so well during this global gathering - kept them out with ease to the extent that eventually Shane Williams decided to go for the drop-goal. And Wales had a let off five minutes later as an O'Connor penalty - a result of more Wales ill-discipline - ducked under the crossbar.
Despite Wales trying to put some phase play together, they failed to find any sense of continuity and a Barnes drop-goal reminiscent of Stephen Larkham's effort in 1999 stretched the lead to eight points.
Charged with the task of hauling back the deficit, Wales upped the tempo and the boot of Stephen Jones brought them back within five points with 10 minutes left on the clock. But any sense of a Wales fightback was nearly put to bed with Adam Ashley-Cooper taking advantage of good work from O'Connor, only to have the ball knocked from his hands with the try line begging thanks to great work from George North.
But with Wales encamped in their own 22 unable to clear their lines, No.8 McCalman profited from excellent sniping around the ruck from Luke Burgess to take Saia Fainga'a's offload and power over. The match was out of Wales' reach but a late rally saw numerous phases put Halfpenny over to add some gloss to the scoreboard, although it was too little too late as the bronze medal travelled back over the Tasman with Australia.
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.