Next stop Six Nations for Gatland revolution

Wales 21 Australia 18
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The Independent Online

In the wake of this telling victory over Australia, it is hard to believe that today marks only the first anniversary of Warren Gatland's reign in Wales.

The turmoil of the shambolic World Cup in France, which paved the way for Gatland's appointment, appears a lifetime ago amid the jubilant scenes in Cardiff. Yet it has taken Gatland just 12 months to whip Wales into arguably the most complete team in the northern hemisphere and the biggest threat to the southern hemisphere.

South Africa were out-played for all but the first 10 minutes, New Zealand were rattled by the infamous Haka stand-off that was backed up by 40 minutes of Welsh blood and thunder, while Australia on Saturday were sent packing with little complaint.

Shane Williams and Lee Byrne, clear favourites for the British Lions, scored the tries, while Stephen Jones recovered from a shaky kicking display to claim 11 points to beat the Wallabies far more comfortably than the scoreline suggests.

It capped a remarkable year since Gatland took charge of a team wallowing below Fiji in 10th place in the world rankings. He has lifted them to fifth after delivering a Six Nations title and has now overseen only the second Welsh victory over Australia in 21 years. Gatland could be forgiven for wishing the Six Nations was starting this week.

He said: "We've gone a long way to restoring respect and pride in the jersey and we can really look forward to the Six Nations.

"After some good performances, it was vital that we got a result so we could look back on something we go forward from and really start looking further down the road to the next few years.

"We dominated this game and the best team won. We deserved this."

On the distant horizon is the 2011 World Cup in his native New Zealand and Gatland will spend today's anniversary in London for the pool draw. Wales missed the chance to join the top seeds for the World Cup, but on current form, they will be the team plenty will want to avoid.

Gatland said: "The draw is the starting point for the next few years, but we shouldn't be worried about the draw. Every pool will be difficult, but we have to back ourselves. We have shown this autumn that no one can take us lightly. There is still plenty of work to do, but if you play Wales now, you're in for a tough match." That was certainly what Australia got from the opening minutes that saw their captain Stirling Mortlock hobble off following a heavy collision with Jamie Roberts, who also made way later on with a fractured skull.

That was only after the Wales centre had played a part in the game's opening try, typifying the new steely edge to these flighty entertainers. Aided and abetted by Shaun Edwards and Rob Howley, Gatland has instilled a self-belief that shone through at the Millennium Stadium.

At times Wales were breathtaking in their ability to keep the ball moving, flicking between forwards and backs with ease, keeping the Australians on their toes and probing for an opening.

Shane Williams celebrated his World Player of the Year title with his 44th Test try following a sublime one-handed catch, before he turned creator, drawing in three defenders and sending Byrne scorching through.

Williams said: "We felt we deserved to win and take one of the big scalps. It was a rugged, determined performance from the lads, one of the best I've ever been involved in. Some of the rugby we played was absolutely brilliant."

Wales are oozing with confidence but there are still flaws, most notably the line-out which allowed Australia a route back into this contest through Mark Chisholm's try, courtesy of a cruel bounce that eluded Gareth Cooper.

Yet even when Digby Ioane slipped through an otherwise impressive red defence to set up a nail-biting climax, Wales were assured and calm to strike a belated blow for the northern hemisphere.

Wales: Tries S Williams, Byrne; Conversion S Jones; Penalties S Jones 2; Drop goal S Jones. Australia: Tries Chisholm, Ioane; Conversion Giteau; Penalty Giteau; Drop goal Giteau.

Wales: L Byrne; M Jones, T Shanklin, J Roberts (A Bishop, 17), S Williams; S Jones, G Cooper; G Jenkins, M Rees, A Jones, I Gough, A W Jones, R Jones (capt), A Powell (D Jones, 61), M Williams.

Australia: D Mitchell; P Hynes (L Tuqiri, 31), R Cross, S Mortlock (capt, Q Cooper, 2), D Ioane; M Giteau, L Burgess; B Robinson, S Moore (A Freier, 69), A Baxter, M Chisholm, N Sharpe, H McMeniman (D Mumm, 69), R Brown, P Waugh (A Freier, 27-37, G Smith 61).

Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).

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