RYAN VREDE watched Australia stutter to an uninspiring 21-18 victory over Wales in the World Cup bronze medal match at Eden Park.
Naturally this contest lacked the intensity and compelling appeal of a match where the result was meaningful. Consequently it descended into a structureless, error-strewn and utterly unpalatable sideshow to Sunday’s final.
It would have been more bearable if either side had earned the right to play expansively by showing some appreciation for building a platform. Instead the strike runners in either pack were rarely deployed often enough to achieve this, with the showmen in the back division asked to enthral and entertain the 60 000 poor souls who paid to be punished.
Handling errors abound and Australia’s lethargy in sending cleaners into rucks often resulted in turnovers in the Welsh 22m. Their troubles were compounded and cause undermined when key play makers Kurtley Beale and Quade Cooper were injured before 25 minutes had elapsed. The latter, did, however, craft a try for Berrick Barnes with a deft offload, before his exit.
Australia looked a better side than the impotent Welsh, whose struggles were rooted in their inability to impose themselves at the gainline. They also missed suspended captain Sam Warburton’s ability to stifle the opposition’s attacking flow through his breakdown work. Indeed Warren Gatland’s side played with the verve, accuracy and innovation that suggested they’d had spent their week working their way through Auckland’s pubs and nightclubs.
Wales missed three goalkicks but still trailed by just four points (7-3) with with 30 minutes to play, before scoring courtesy of a clear forward pass. On the evidence of that incorrect decision, it appeared referee Wayne Barnes and his assistant had been lulled into a slumber themselves.
James O’Connor kicked two penalties to regain the lead for the Wallabies before Barnes took the Wallabies eight points ahead with a drop goal. Stephen Jones set up a tense final 10 minutes with a three pointer.
Adam Ashley-Cooper should have sealed the result with six minutes to play, but he grassed the ball in a tackle a metre for the goal line. Ben McCalman, however, made no mistake shortly thereafter. Wales would score after the siren had sounded, but were undeserving of victory.
The Wallabies thus finish in third place, which is much like almost bagging the hottest girl at the party, then having to settle for her ugly friend.