Harris breaks Welsh hearts
16 Jun 2012
GARETH DUNCAN watched Wallabies reserve flyhalf Mike Harris kick a last-second penalty to secure a 25-23 win over Wales in Melbourne.
Wales were set for their first victory over the Wallabies on Australian soil since 1969. However, the 43-year drought will continue thanks to an accurate goal kick from Harris under immense pressure.
The player came off the bench in the 72nd minute, and was asked to convert his first and only attempt at posts from a difficult angle (a few metres inside the left touchline) during overtime. A solid strike saw the ball sail over the crossbar, and victory was sealed.
Heartbreak for Wales – jubilation for the Wallabies.
While Harris nailed the decider, No 10 Berrick Barnes deserves most of the praise as his all-round contribution kept the hosts within reach throughout the match. It was his break that created the try for outside centre Rob Horne, while he slotted six of his seven goal attempts before being substituted because of a hamstring injury. With Wallabies coach Robbie Deans still unsure on a permanent candidate for the No 10 jersey, with the absent Quade Cooper, James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale in mind, Barnes made a big statement in this Test.
Meanwhile, spare a thought for the Welsh. They played really well and deserved a late 23-22 lead. They contested tirelessly at the breakdowns and scrummed well for most parts of the match. Fullback Leigh Halfpenny was also carried out a big role from the kicking tee – adding all possible 13 points.
While their ascendancy among the heavies up front gave the Dragons a great chance for victory, it also secured them a strong start to game.
Shortly after the kick-off, a string of eight phases put wing George North through for an early score with only two minutes played. Halfpenny booted the conversion. Wales came out blazing, but the Wallabies showed great composure thereafter and slowly won control of the match, mainly thanks to Barnes’s influence.
He spearheaded the backline well and made smart decisions on attack. One of his highlights in the opening 40 saw him expose the Welsh static defence with a run following a dummy pass, and he broke their guard in centre field. A swift pass to the supporting Horne was his final touch on a crucial score. With his two penalties earlier in the first stanza, the Wallabies led 13-7 at half-time.
In the second stanza, Wales grabbed another early try. Wallabies scrumhalf Will Genia’s no-look pass in the midfield failed to find any hands, and Wales inside centre Ashley Beck hacked the loose ball into the Australian 22m area. Beck was taken out off the ball during the chase, but outside centre Jonathan Davies had the pace and skill to finish off the try.
The lead jumped hands several times thereafter as Barnes and Halfpenny traded penalties. It was Halfpenny’s 66th-minute three-pointer that looked like the game-clincher as Wales held on bravely during the closing stages of the match. They also played against 14 men in the final quarter, with wing Cooper Vuna getting a yellow card for a dangerous tackle.
However, Wales conceded a penalty while defending a driving maul, allowing Harris to clinch the win and the Test series in the Wallabies’ favour.