Chris Latham’s monumental score five minutes from fulltime spared the Wallabies a second successive defeat against Wales in Cardiff.
But Latham’s try, a 50 metre solo run, wasn’t sufficient to give the Wallabies victory as their horrible away record continues to haunt them.
Phil Waugh, in his first match as captain, had to be content with a 29-all draw – and the Wallabies will know they were fortunate to leave without defeat. Don’t be lulled by the four tries to two Australian advantage, Wales will feel they lost this one more than Australia salvaged it.
The test match was a repeat of the Wallabies embarrassing midweek defeat to the Ospreys, with the visitors starting brilliantly and fading as dramatically.
Leading 13-0 against the Ospreys, the Wallabies lost 24-16. On Saturday they lead 17-6 after 30 minutes, but within five minutes Wales had scored a fantastic try, replacement flyhalf James Hook had kicked a conversion and then four minutes later added another three points to make it a one-point game at half-time.
On the hour Wales were leading 26-17 as Australia started to disintegrate. The pack was as poor as it had been a year ago and Wales were wining the contest at the breakdown. There was no go-forward ball for the Ausralian backs and too often they were trying to create space from defensive ball. Matt Giteau, sharp at scrumhalf in the first half, was equally good at centre when shifted two out on the hour. It was Giteau who kept Australia in the game, but not even Giteau could match the performance of Latham.
Individual brilliance limited Australia’s blushes, but collectively they were a poorer team than the hosts who transformed themselves after a limp opening 30 minutes. In this period the Australians had won 20 balls in Wales’s 22 metre area, had made 10 offloads in the tackle and broken the line six times. Wales registered zero on all three counts.
But this was as good as it got for Australia and it was Wales who showed the greater composure and seemed in control of the match. The most defining moment came in the 78th minute with Australia awarded a scrum feed 5 metres from the Welsh line. Any hint of glory turned to torture as Wales humiliated the Wallabies scrum and forced the turnover. A year under a new coaching staff had yielded nothing when it came to the scrum. Australia were as battered as they’d been a year ago in Cardiff when the Welsh also pushed them off the ball at scrum time.
Australia may have some of the best backline players in the game, but they have one of the most ordinary packs. Wales may not have the individual stars but as a team they played with greater purpose and certainly enjoyed the stronger afternoon at the breakdown.
Young replacement flyhalf James Hook was good and opensider Martyn Williams was influential in limiting the quick ball Australia needs to be effective.
Never in the history of these two nations has a test between the two ended in a draw. That ended in Cardiff. What hasn’t ended is the continued doubts about a Wallabies team that talks a far greater game than it plays these days.
Tries – Shayne Williams (32nd min), Martyn Williams (57th min)
Convs – James Hook (33rd min, 58th min)
Pens – Stephen Jones (8th min), Gavin Henson (15th min), Hook (39th, 50th min, 70th min)
Tries – Cameron Shepherd (11th min, 59th min), Matt Giteau (18th mins), Chris Latham (64th min)
Convs – Giteau (12th min, 19th min, 60th min)
Pens – Giteau (3mins)
Wales: 15 Kevin Morgan, 14 Gareth Thomas, 13 Tom Shanklin, 12 Gavin Henson, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Stephen Jones (captain), 9 Dwayne Peel, 8 Ryan Jones, 7 Martyn Williams, 6 Jonathan Thomas, 5 Ian Gough, 4 Ian Evans, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Subs: 16 Rhys Thomas, 17 Duncan Jones, 18 Gavin Thomas, 19 Alun Wyn Jones, 20 Mike Phillips, 21 James Hook, 22 Mark Jones.
Wallabies: 15 Chris Latham (vice-captain), 14 Clyde Rathbone, 13 Lote Tuqiri, 12 Stephen Larkham (vice-captain), 11 Cameron Shepherd, 10 Mat Rogers, 9 Matt Giteau, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Phil Waugh (captain), 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Daniel Vickerman (vice-captain), 4 Nathan Sharpe, 3 Rodney Blake, 2 Tai McIsaac, 1 Al Baxter.
Subs: 16 Brendan Cannon, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Mark Chisholm, 19 Stephen Hoiles, 20 Josh Valentine, 21 Mark Gerrard, 22 Adam Ashley-Cooper
Kick-off: 16.30 (SA time)