Wallabies dish up second heartbreaker for Wales

Australia 20 Wales 19: Another cliff-hanger defeat for the Grand Slam champions Down Under

If Wales thought they couldn't get any closer to finally beating the Wallabies in Australia after 43 years than they had done in Melbourne, they were wrong.

Sam Warburton's men may have lost after the final hooter had blown a week earlier, but the margin of defeat at the Etihad Stadium was two points. A week on in Sydney the Grand Slam champions cut the deficit to a single point, after once again taking the lead twice in the second half.

Part of the agony in the second Test came because Wales led for 71 of the 80 minutes. Not only that, the final kick of the game that brought about a 25-23 defeat sewed up the series for the Wallabies.

The heartbreaking manner of that defeat, and the fact the series had been lost, led many to wonder if the final game would be truly competitive. It was, and hugely so.

Wales were still feeling the pain and were playing for pride, while the Australians aren't born to give an inch. It meant the lead changed hands four times before Berrick Barnes clinched the victory with his fifth penalty of the game, four minutes from time.

But far from being down and out down under, Wales have every reason to feel buoyant about their future. What does not kill you only makes you stronger, they say, and while a 3-0 whitewash from three narrow defeats has taken this Welsh side to the brink of despair, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

There are two dates at the end of the year that provide an opportunity to redress the balance, not only against the Wallabies, but also against the best team in the world, the All Blacks. The Welsh fixture list in the autumn features games against New Zealand on 24 November and Australia on 1 December.

Those matches cannot come quickly enough for this Welsh team, who know the more often they test themselves against the best teams in the world, the closer they will get to ultimately beating them. That has been the Warren Gatland mantra ever since he took over as coach in 2008 and the penny seems to have dropped.

Best team in the northern hemisphere they might have been earlier in the year, but Wales are currently only the fourth best team in the IRB world rankings. What they have proved over this three-Test series in Australia is that they deserve their ranking and can now stay the course with the best.

As the Wallabies' head coach Robbie Deans acknowledged after the game "Wales are a world class side". Australia might now have won the last seven meetings, but there were just 11 points between the two sides over these three games and 20 in the past five matches.

"They have a capacity to play, they have an ability to keep going for the full 80 minutes and they have threats all across the park," said Deans. "By the time we get over there at the end of the year they will be refreshed and lying in wait – not only for us, but also the All Blacks. I think they have a good opportunity there."

The battle of the boots of Berrick Barnes and Leigh Halfpenny once again dominated the scoreboard, with the home No 10's four first-half kicks giving the Wallabies a 12-9 interval lead. Halfpenny proved he is only human by hitting an upright from near halfway at the end of the third quarter – his first miss in 16 Test kicks – and it was not until acting captain Ryan Jones drove over at the posts just after the hour that Wales took the lead.

Rob Horne's second try of the series reclaimed it for the hosts minutes later, whereupon the two marksmen traded blows again, with Barnes' final kick four minutes from time settling matters.

Agony once again for the Welsh players – the young wing Alex Cuthbert burst into tears on the whistle – and their fans, but there may be ecstasy later in the year.

Australia: K Beale; A Ashley-Cooper, R Horne, P McCabe (A Fainga'a, 35), D Ioane; B Barnes, W Genia; B Robinson, T Polota-Nau (S Moore, 66), S Kepu (B Alexander, 66), S Timani (R Simmons, 72), N Sharpe, S Higginbotham (D Dennis, 66), D Pocock (capt), W Palu.

Wales: L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, J Davies, A Beck (S Williams, 66), G North; R Priestland (J Hook, 70), M Phillips; G Jenkins (P James, 41), M Rees (K Owens, 66), A Jones, B Davies, AW Jones (L Charteris, 66), D Lydiate, S Warburton (capt; J Tipuric, 28), R Jones.