Jonathan Davies: A blisteringly breathless encounter

Thrilling tale of boomerang rugby has perfect Hook-line
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The Independent Online

What brilliant boomerang rugby, and like all good boomerangs it ended back where it began - but what a great journey it took us on. And when you weigh up the terrific action we were treated to, a draw was a fair result for a match that had plenty to encourage both sides.

The teams took turns to dominate play and it was much more than a game of two halves, it was a game of four quarters and it remained unpredictable until the end. It was a game full of top performances and my man of the match was Chris Latham, the Australian full-back, who scored a brilliant solo try from inside his own half to restore their lead in the second half.

Australia took our breath away with their blistering start and after 20 minutes Wales were so far out of sight you needed a powerful pair of binoculars to get a glimpse of them.

All the talk coming into the game was how the Aussie backline was packed with players being asked to play in positions we are not used to seeing them in. Coach John Connolly was accused of being too experimental, yet his back division looked anything but misfits as they tore into a bewildered Welsh team.

It was a superb exhibition of flat rugby and it didn't matter where Matt Giteau, Stephen Larkham and Mat Rogers were playing. Giteau was in dynamite form at scrum-half, where he used to play in his younger days.

The width of their flat passes enabled them to hit holes in Wales's defence and with their forwards not only providing the platform, possession and territory but also carrying the ball well, the game looked over.

When newly promoted winger Cameron Shepherd scored their first try in the 12th minute, Wales had already been forced to make three times more tackles than Australia. As the quick-thinking Giteau caught Wales asleep by running a penalty in for a try seven minutes later, a walkover looked a distinct possibility.

Losing their skipper, Stephen Jones, to a knee injury after 24 minutes made Wales' plight look ever more perilous but, suddenly, they were back in it. The transformation came after Giteau had hit the post with a penalty that would have increased the Aussie lead to 20-6.

Wales struck from one of their first ventures beyond the Australian 20. A lovely crossfield movement, which Gavin Henson fuelled with a skilful take-and-give when under pressure from Lote Tuqiri, saw Shane Williams score a superb try.

Then we began to see the full promise of James Hook, who replaced captain Jones. Hook was an amateur at the start of the year but entered the game as smoothly as a veteran.

Wales started taking the game to Australia and Hook's penalty enabled them to reach the interval only a point behind at 16-17. Another Hook penalty rewarded Wales' domination of the start of the second half, and when Martyn Williams took advantage of Steve Hoiles' mistake to score a runaway try it looked as if Wales had the upper hand.

Back came Australia and when the scores stood level with a couple of minutes to go, Rogers was lined up for a drop goal when the Welsh scrum wheeled brilliantly to take the chance away and preserve the draw.

There is no doubt that a recent lack of match practice told against Australia and they'll be a tougher prospect later in the tour. No doubt, either, that Wales' comeback spoke volumes about their progress, with excellent displays from Martyn Williams, Jonathan Thomas and Hook.

These sides next meet in the opening rounds of the World Cup next year and we can start looking forward to it now.

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