Wales shook off the"nearly men" tag to record a famous victory and inflict a belated blow for the northern hemisphere against the south in what has been a difficult autumn series.
Shane Williams and Lee Byrne scored tries in the first half as the Welsh rediscovered their cutting edge, rewarding their endeavour and resilience in defence – the latter typified by the centre Jamie Roberts, who played for 10 minutes with a fractured skull. They still managed to leave their first victory over a Tri-Nations side in three years in the balance, after allowing the Wallaby winger Digby Ioane a last-minute try that set up a tense climax to a thrilling contest that looked to have swung Wales's way several times, only for Australia's determination and the home outside-half Stephen Jones's erratic goal-kicking to keep the outcome up in the air.
Jones did, however, keep his cool in the closing stages to land a 40-metre drop goal and a penalty that took Wales above England and into fifth place in the world rankings.
Wales's captain, Ryan Jones, said: "We've really played some fantastic rugby but we knew we had to beat one of the best teams in the world and now we have proved what we are capable of. With the work ethic this team has, the sky is the limit."
Two Six Nations Grand Slams have been won in four years but questions remained about Wales's form on the world stage. Rousing performances against South Africa and New Zealand this month had not been enough for a victory.
Wales's coach, Warren Gatland, said: "I'm very proud of our display, we dominated the game throughout and the best team won. I guess someone had to fly the flag for the northern hemisphere, but the result for us is the most important thing.
"The last few minutes were killing the coaches and we didn't help ourselves at times but we were good enough to grind out the win that sends us forward to the Six Nations with confidence."
Wales led 15-10 at half-time but their advantage should have been more after a scintillating first period that began with the loss of Australia's captain, Stirling Mortlock, following a collision with Roberts. The Wales centre continued long enough to play a part in the first try, which was scored by the world player of the year. Shane Williams's one-handed catch to take the scoring pass showed sheer class.
Andy Powell and Ryan Jones were the battering rams and Byrne, the in-form full-back in Britain, delivered the scoring pass after Roberts had been hauled down short.
Wales led but their frailty at the line-out was again exposed as a cruel bounce from Alun-Wyn Jones' fingertips eluded the scrum-half, Gareth Cooper, and opened the door for the lock Mark Chisholm to stretch his legs for an Australian try. The fly-half Matt Giteau – who reports yesterday suggested could become a world-record signing for the French club Bayonne – converted and kicked a drop goal. Wales were being penalised too often for diving into the tackle area.
However, Wales's ability to keep the ball alive and find support always made them dangerous. Stephen Jones trimmed the deficit to two points after the Wallaby hooker Stephen Moore was shown the yellow card, and then Byrne crossed the tourists' line on 31 minutes.
Gethin Jenkins burst clear before Shane Williams switched the direction of attack, sucking in three men and sending Byrne streaking through.
Jones missed two penalties, either side of Giteau's successful kick, as Wales wobbled. The Welsh outside-half then kicked a 78th-minute penalty that proved enough to render Australia's late try academic, and Wales could celebrate a significant step forward in the world game.
Wales: L Byrne (Ospreys); M Jones (Scarlets), T Shanklin, J Roberts (both Blues), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), G Cooper (Gloucester); G Jenkins (Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones, I Gough, AW Jones, R Jones (capt; all Ospreys), A Powell, M Williams (both Blues). Replacements: A Bishop (Ospreys) for Roberts, 17; D Jones (Scarlets) for Powell, 61.
Australia: D Mitchell (Force); P Hynes (Reds), R Cross (Force), S Mortlock (Brumbies, capt), D Ioane (Reds); M Giteau (Force), L Burgess; B Robinson (both Waratahs), S Moore (Reds), A Baxter (Waratahs), M Chisholm (Brumbies), N Sharpe (Force), H McMeniman (Reds), R Brown (Force), P Waugh (Waratahs). Replacements: Q Cooper (Reds) for Mortlock, 2; L Tuqiri (Waratahs) for Hynes, 31; A Freier (Waratahs) for Waugh, 27-37; G Smith (Brumbies) for Waugh, 61; Freier for Moore, 69; D Mumm (Waratahs) for McMeniman, 69.
Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland).Reuse content