Chris Latham has been the No 1 full-back in world rugby for two years, and he confirmed his top billing by scoring one of Australia's greatest tries yesterday. With 16 minutes left, Latham dragged the Wallabies to safety and helped avoid what would have been one of their most embarrassing defeats.
The solo try summed up the big Queenslander's play, which is full of power, pace, touch and technique. His speed set up the chance but it was his strength and guile that enabled him to beat four defenders and reach for the corner. It also typified a marvellous match.
Not far behind Latham was Matt Giteau, who started at scrum-half, moved to inside- centre and occasionally popped up at fly-half. Giteau's quick thinking and darting, elusive runs threatened to win this match inside the first half-hour.
The diminutive Australian punished one of the doziest pieces of defending seen on an international rugby field for some time when the Wales defenders turned their backs on him to allow a 20th-minute try. Giteau was sharp and aware all over the field, whatever he was doing and in whichever position.
Had his first-half penalty for a 20-6 Australian lead not hit a post, it is possible the tourists would have run away with the game. As it was, a distinct rustiness started to show as mistakes allowed Wales to fuel their roaring revival through some sparkling attacking play. The revamped Wallaby backs spluttered unconvincingly in the middle part of the match, just as Wales were improving. Passes were hurled into space, the basics were not adhered to and at times they were simply too ambitious.
The chief offender was Lote Tuqiri, whose suspension for a spear tackle on Richie McCaw in the Tri-Nations only ended on Thursday. We saw the effect of such a long lay-off, for Tuqiri's timing and decision-making were seriously awry. His indisciplined, poorly timed charge into the Welsh line created the hole which Wales exploited for Shane Williams's try. Then Tuqiri strayed clearly offside in front of his posts to concede another three points.
The Wallabies lost their shape after losing Stephen Larkham with a shoulder injury. But for all their backs' problems it was their traditional Achilles' heel that doubtless frustrated those renowned old scrummagers on their coaching bench, John Connolly and Michael Foley.
With two minutes left, at an Australian scrum inside the Welsh 22, there should have been a golden opportunity for a drop goal to win the match. But the Wallaby pack was driven backwards by the Welsh eight and the last chance was gone.Reuse content