Stephen Hoiles scored an injury-time try to secure a 29-23 win for Australia over Wales.
The late score was a cruel blow for the Welsh, who at one stage lead 17-0. They looked to have won their first Test in Australia when James Hook sunk a drop goal with eight minutes to go. But an expansive passage of play eventually saw Hoiles dive over in the corner.
Given that this was the season opening Test, it would be unfair to expect a fluent contest. But both sides will know that there are significant gains to be made as their season progresses. The new look Wallaby backline looked as impotent as their 2006 predecessors while the Welsh lineout was an absolute shambles.
If the partisan crowd were hoping that this match would signal a new begining for the Wallabies after their indifferent form last season, they would’ve been highly disappointed. Wales had opened a significant lead within 20 minutes, with both their tries coming as a direct result of Wallaby errors.
The host’s desire to get width on their game cost them early on. In the second minute of the match a wayward long-range pass by Matt Giteau drifted behind Sterling Mortlock and spilled loose. The ball was hacked ahead and collected by Hook who popped to Gareth Thomas who muscled his way over the chalk. Australia completely dominated the possession and territory stakes in the first-half, but the Welsh defence stood firm and forced the Wallaby backline into a lateral attack.
That pressure defence was central to their second try, when Julian Huxley was forced to throw a 50-50 pass that was easily intercepted by Jamie Robinson. Hook slotted a penalty shortly after to give his side a 17-point lead in a half they had been second best in. In fact, the Dragons made their first foray from structured play into the Wallaby 22m in the 25th minute.
To their credit though, the Wallabies stuck to their structures, and got themselves into the match when Wyclif Palu crossed after 13 phases. They continued to pound up at the Welsh defensive line who stood firm. But a slipped tackle by Brent Cockbain allowed Nathan Sharpe to barge over from 5m out, and Australia were back in business. The hosts continue to shift the ball wide, with Giteau’s service from the ruck base a highlight of the game. The Force man’s allround performance was excellent, with his sniping breaks around the fringes getting the Australians good go forward.
It was a blend of Giteau brilliance and Welsh incompetence that allowed the No 9 in for the Wallaby’s third try, 15 minutes into the second-half. Giteau picked up and went blindside, only to be presented with an unguarded fringe and strolled in to make it a one point game.
At that stage Wales had wrestled the momentum from Australia and had camped in their half in the third quater. But ill discipline in promising positions cost them, and allowed Australia to creep back into contention. A Mortlock penalty took his side ahead for the first time, before Hook missed his first kick of the match.
But the flyhalf made sure eight minutes from the end, with a drop goal that looked to have sealed victory.
The Wallabies launched an all-out assault on the Welsh line with numerous attacks being thwarted through some spirited defence. Ultimately Wales were forced to send to many players into the rucks and the opportunity present itself out wide where Hoiles sent the Telstra Stadium into a frenzy.
Australia - Try: Wycliff Palu, Nathan Sharpe , Matt Giteau, Stephen Hoiles Conversion: Stirling Mortlock (3) Penalty: Mortlock
Wales - Tries:Gareth Thomas, Jamie Robinson Conversions: James Hook (2) Penalty: Hook (2) Drop goal: Hook
By Ryan Vrede
Australia – 15 Julian Huxley, 14 Mark Gerrard, 13 Stirling Mortlock, 12 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Stephen Larkham, 9 Matt Giteau, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Phil Waugh (c), 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 Nathan Sharpe, 3 Guy Shepherdson, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Matt Dunning.
Subs: 16 Adam Freier, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Dan Vickerman, 19 Stephen Hoiles, 20 George Smith, 21 George Gregan, 22 Scott Staniforth.
Wales – 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Gareth Thomas (c), 13 Jamie Robinson, 12 Sonny Parker, 11 Chris Czekaj, 10 James Hook, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Iestyn Thomas, 7 Matthew Rees, 6 Adam Jones, 5 Brent Cockbain, 4 Rob Sidoli, 3 Colin Charvis, 2 Gavin Thomas, 1 Jonathan Thomas.
Subs: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Ceri Jones, 18 Michael Owen, 19 Scott Morgan, 20 Gareth Cooper, 21 Ceri Sweeney, 22 Gavin Henson.