Australia defended grimly to weather a fierce second-half assault from Wales and win the first match of their three-Test series. Trailing 17-3 minutes after the break, Wales closed to within a point with a try by the wing Alex Cuthbert in the 58th minute and some accurate kicking by the full-back Leigh Halfpenny on a drizzly night in Brisbane. But the Wallabies' inside-centre, Pat McCabe, eased the pressure with a try 10 minutes later and Australia made a series of desperate tackles to deny the tourists.
"We had a lot of fun out there it was great to play in front of a crowd like this," said the Wallabies captain, David Pocock. "There was a huge focus on the breakdown. Both teams did pretty well there."
The Wallabies appeared to be a bundle of nerves in the opening minutes, putting themselves under pressure with errant passes, but an equally jittery Wales failed to capitalise. The tourists made the first major incursion, in the 10th minute, with a break in midfield, but McCabe made a brilliant, lunging tackle to bring down Scott Williams 10 metres from the line before a knock-on ended the move.
Four minutes later McCabe blew a certain try, sparking howls from the stands, when he ignored Digby Ioane outside and made a dart for the left corner, only to be tackled short of the line.
The Australian pressure eventually told, though, the Welsh defence buckling in the 15th minute when the Wallaby flanker Scott Higginbotham planted the ball next to the posts after a series of crashing drives by the forwards.
Halfpenny, who played most of the match on the wing after George North injured a knee in the first half, steemed the bleeding with a penalty in the 23rd minute and at the break it was 10-3, but the Wallaby scrum-half Will Genia struck less than a minute into the second half when he danced superbly past a clutch of defenders to cross beneath the posts.
Wales counter-attacked and a clash of heads between the Australian hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau and Williams saw both players trudge off the field before Cuthbert scored just before the hour, snaffling a pass popped up from the debutant Ashley Beck and charging over near the right corner.
Four minutes later Wales blew a certain try, when Rhys Priestland spilled a terrible pass over his head in front of the posts, with a two-man overlap waiting. Halfpenny kicked his fourth penalty to bring Wales to within a point but McCabe burst through from 10 metres after taking a pass from Genia.
Wales pushed for a late try and broke the Wallabies' line on several occasions, but they were denied repeatedly by brilliant tackles. Higginbotham proved heroic as he brought down Cuthbert on the line and Berrick Barnes made another try-saving tackle moments later.
Australia A Ashley-Cooper (New South Wales Waratahs); C Vuna (Melbourne Rebels), R Horne (Waratahs), P McCabe (ACT Brumbies), D Ioane (Queensland Reds); B Barnes (Waratahs), W Genia (Reds); B Robinson, T Polota Nau, S Kepu (all Waratahs), R Simmons (Reds), N Sharpe (Western Force), S Higginbotham (Reds), W Palu (Waratahs), D Pocock (capt, Force). Replacements A Fainga'a (Reds) for Horne, 50-55; for Vuna, 71; S Moore (Brumbies) for Polota Nau, 55; B Alexander (Brumbies) for Robinson, 58; M Hooper (Brumbies) for Palu, 58; D Dennis (Waratahs) for Sharpe, 64.
Wales L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert (both Cardiff Blues), J Davies, S Williams, G North; R Priestland (all Scarlets), M Phillips (Bayonne); G Jenkins (Blues), K Owens (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), B Davies (Blues), L Charteris, D Lydiate, T Faletau (all Newport Gwent Dragons), S Warburton (Blues, capt). Replacements J Hook (Perpignan) for North, 28; AW Jones (Ospreys) for Charteris, 51; R Jones (Ospreys) for Faletau, 51; M Rees (Scarlets) for Owens, 51; A Beck (Ospreys) for Williams, 55; P James (Ospreys) for A Jones, 75.
Referee C Joubert (South Africa).
Tries: Higginbotham, Genia, McCabe
Cons: Barnes 3
Pens: Halfpenny 4