Wales's autumn ended as it began, with defeat to a Tri-Nations heavyweight, though this one, riddled with injuries and lit up by Australian attacking, was far more clear-cut than that against New Zealand. In between there had been victories over Samoa and Argentina, but as a quartet of results at their proud Cardiff home, it fell a long way short of a satisfying score-draw.
"The most disappointing performance in my time here," was how the Wales head coach, Warren Gatland, described this deflating conclusion, 22 matches, 14 wins and two years into the job. "Today was a learning experience for a lot of our younger players. Australia dominated the air, and they were strong at scrum time and in the contact area." The experiment of persisting with the youthful Jonathan Davies at centre when Tom Shanklin was fit again after a broken nose blew up in Wales's face when three Lions, including the wings Shane Williams and Leigh Halfpenny, went off hurt in the first half.
A rejigged backline was given the runaorund by Matt Giteau, Quade Cooper and the 21-year-old scrum-half, Will Genia – born in Papua New Guinea, schooled in Brisbane – who spent 79 minutes cajoling, stealing ball and making a quality nuisance of himself before taking a well-earned 60 seconds' rest.
Who knows, Gatland may yet earn praise for examining the strength in depth, or otherwise, available to Wales. The lack of tighthead options was exposed by a Wallaby scrum gradually building quite a solid reputation for themselves. All four Australian tries were scored from turnovers and that only highlighted a powerful combination of urgency, speed and skill in every department.
"We chanced our arm and played some pretty good football," said Giteau, utterly transformed from the mournful soul who had missed a last-minute conversion in the previous week's 9-8 defeat by Scotland. Giteau's third-minute penalty preceded searing tries by Digby Ioane, James Horwill and David Pocock inside 24 minutes. While that was going on, Wales lost Williams who pulled up chasing his own chip, Halfpenny with a dead leg (his slip played a part in Horwill's try) and the hooker Matthew Rees, taken off on a stretcher with a groin injury.
Giteau's lovely right-footed tab in behind Halfpenny sat up nicely for Ioane, the Wallaby props Ben Alexander and Benn Robinson combined with short passes to Drew Mitchell who fed the galloping Horwill, and Pocock's one-handed stretch came after Genia had pilfered a catch from the much bigger Jamie Roberts. Leads of 8-0, 13-3 and 23-9 were peppered with a Halfpenny penalty from 50 metres, and three kicks by Stephen Jones, and Australia led 23-12 at the break.
From a line-out on the right, Andrew Bishop and Stephen Jones burst over the gainline and set Roberts free. A confident sidestep might have beaten Mitchell, the Wallabies' last man, but Roberts instead gave an outside pass which died in the arms of Tom James as Genia made the tackle.
Australia responded with a scrum which popped Duncan Jones in the air and Giteau kicked the penalty after 57 minutes. A Wallaby counter-attacking hack upfield saw Ioane hammer into the retreating James to force Wales off the ball, and Giteau cut a great angle from a deep position before he gave a scoring pass inside to the replacement hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau. The extras from Giteau finished it off.
Wales J Hook; L Halfpenny (A Bishop, 27), J Roberts, J Davies, S Williams (T James, 7); S Jones, D Peel (M Roberts, 10-14, 71); G Jenkins (capt), M Rees (H Bennett, 30), P James (D Jones, 48), AW Jones, L Charteris (J Thomas, 54), D Lydiate (S Warburton, 48), A Powell (D Lydiate, 60), M Williams.
Australia A Ashley-Cooper; P Hynes (J O'Connor, 62), D Ioane, Q Cooper, D Mitchell (K Beale, 70); M Giteau, W Genia (L Burgess, 79); B Robinson, S Moore (T Polota-Nau, 55), B Alexander (M Dunning, 70), J Horwill, D Mumm, R Elsom, W Palu (M Chisholm, 70), D Pocock (G Smith, 40).
Referee: W Barnes (England).