Mixed emotions for Aussies
Australia finished their RWC campaign on a winning note - although the victory over Wales came at a cost.
By Tony Curtis
Last Updated: 22/10/11 8:23am
Australia finished their World Cup campaign on a winning note - although the 21-18 victory over Wales in the bronze medal match came at a cost.
The Wallabies lost both Kurtley Beale (hamstring) and Quade Cooper (knee) in the opening quarter although they still had enough in reserve to claim a third-place finish in the tournament.
The injury to Cooper was particularly bad, with the playmaker collapsing to the ground as his right knee gave way as he tried to step inside.
Cooper, who had endured a disappointing World Cup, had looked more like his old self at the start of the encounter as he had the Australia backs performing beautifully.
Cooper had set Berrick Barnes up for the opening try of the match before his game was ended prematurely. Barnes, though, stepped in brilliantly and slotted over a drop-goal, while Ben McCalman crossed for a late try and James O'Connor added eight points.
For Wales, James Hook and Stephen Jones were on target with eight points between them while Shane Williams and Leigh Halfpenny popped up for tries - but ultimately Warren Gatland's men struggled to get going.
Their handling - in the opening 40 minutes especially - had hampered their attacking attempts while they were clearly missing Adam Jones in the scrum as Australia were able to dominate the set-piece.
Australia had looked irresistible in the opening exchanges with the backs, in particular, threatening at every opportunity.
Wales had got a couple of early let-offs when Cooper's inside pass failed to find Adam Ashley-Cooper, while O'Connor just failed to get to the fly-half's chip ahead.
But the pressure finally told as Barnes timed his run to perfection off an Australia scrum to scythe through the defence on 12 minutes. O'Connor converted.
Wales, though, responded well and they opened their account with a Hook penalty after the Australia scrum collapsed.
However, having already lost Kurtley Beale with a recurrence of his hamstring problem, Australia then saw Cooper helped off the pitch with a suspected knee cruciate injury on 20 minutes.
Having been forced to shuffle their back division, Australia lost their direction in attack - although O'Connor should have extended their advantage but his penalty effort rebounded back off the posts.
Wales were also off-target with a three-pointer as Leigh Halfpenny's attempt sailed wide, leaving Australia to head into the interval with a 7-3 lead.
Wales really should have cut the deficit to just a point after the restart but Hook missed a regulation penalty attempt.
However, Wales finally took a chance with Williams showing his footballing skills to score. The initial pass out wide looked a good yard or two forward but Williams hacked on and won the foot-race to the ball.
Australia, though, hit back with O'Connor adding two quickfire penalties to open up a five-point lead, while the winger was only just short with another effort on 65 minutes.
Barnes, though, did give the Wallabies some breathing space as he slotted over a drop-goal - only for Jones to set up a thrilling finale with his 70th-minute penalty.
Ashley-Cooper should had sealed the game with six minutes left but George North superbly ripped the ball free as he attempted to crash over the line.
However, McCalman made no mistake two minutes later as he took Saia Fainga'a's offload to score in the corner. O'Connor missed the extras.
Wales did finish the game on a positive note as Halfpenny eventually went over in the corner after a sustained spell of pressure, but it was Australia who took the spoils.