Wales 20 Australia 32: Latham lands blows to floor Wales

Full-back scores twice as Australian aggression condemns Dragons to a likely quarter-final against the Springboks
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The Independent Online

Put it this way. Who would you rather play in the quarter-finals, England or South Africa? It is, as they say, a no brainer. The winners of this pool avoid the winners of Pool A, almost certainly the Springboks, so to the victors here yesterday the spoils were indeed considerable. What awaits is a date with the English if, and that's not a little if, they beat Samoa next week.

Wales drew the short straw as Australia made light of the fact that the match was held not in neutral France but in the capital of Wales. All this nonsense, of course, is the result of the disgraceful gerrymandering of the French in securing votes to host the tournament.

Talking of light, the roof of the Millennium Stadium was closed. Was this another ploy to disorientate the Wallabies, for outside it was hot enough to toss a shrimp on the barbie. And beneath the roof was a huge sign: Rugby World Cup 2007 France. Bonjour, Dai.

Wales were out of it by half-time, when they trailed 25-3 and looked as if they were heading for a record bashing. Instead they began to play the sort of 15-man stuff that won them a Grand Slam a couple of years ago and they comfortably outscored Australia in the second half.

Wales managed to score two tries and during this competition not many teams, if any, will score as many against the Wallabies. When they won the Webb Ellis Cup in 1999 they conceded one try in the tournament. Their defence may not be as watertight but it's still tight.

All in all this was a very professional and encouraging performance by Australia who have an exceptionally large and physical squad. As early as the eighth minute Stephen Moore, a huge lump of a hooker, smashed into Shane Williams in a challenge that was not so much late as historic. It resembled a collision between a frigate and a pocket battleship and that was the tone of the half. Moore could have got a yellow; Wales got nothing.

The refereeing in this tournament so far has not been good and Steve Walsh did little to raise the standard. In the 15th minute the Wallabies pulled clear when Berrick Barnes, a late understudy for the injured Stephen Larkham, made a lovely little break in midfield, drew Gareth Thomas and sent Matt Giteau in at the posts. Thomas flattened Barnes with a shoulder charge and got a lecture from the ref.

A few minutes later Sonny Parker was clobbered and was carried off with a leg injury. This meant Thomas moving to centre where he was soon flattened by the shoulder of Stirling Mortlock. The collision resulted in Thomas damaging a shoulder of his own and he too departed.

After Barnes had dropped a goal, Wales fell even further behind when Mark Jones, sandwiched by Lote Tuqiri and Giteau, could not complete a pass. There was a neat pick-up by Matt Dunning and George Gregan's chip fell for Mortlock. Dunning is a member of a much-maligned Wallaby front row. They stood up OK yesterday.

Leading 18-3, Australia produced a third try on the brink of half-time, Drew Mitchell feeding Chris Latham close to the left corner. Few people would have got the touchdown but Latham is one of the strongest runners the game has seen. The full-back also had an eventful second half.

Wales were far more inventive and combative after the break and were getting something going when Jonathan Thomas crashed over following intense pressure and a penalty from James Hook made it 25-13 with half an hour left. What happened next was cruel for Wales. Latham, who had just committed a high and late tackle on Kevin Morgan, put up an innocuous high ball which Stephen Jones completely misjudged. It could have gone anywhere but it bounced into Latham's arms and he was unstoppable.

Wales, aided by yellow cards to Mitchell, for a spear tackle on Gethin Jenkins, and the lock Nathan Sharpe for lying on the ball like a giant possum, produced some excellent play and Shane Williams thoroughly deserved his try near the end. Wales said there was more to come; the Wallabies said the same thing and, crucially, they were not the runners-up here.

Wales: G Thomas (capt); M Jones, T Shanklin, S Parker, S Williams; S Jones, D Peel; G Jenkins, M Rees, A Jones, I Gough, A-W Jones, C Charvis, J Thomas, M Williams. Replacements: K Morgan for Parker, 19; J Hook for G Thomas, 22; D Jones for A Jones, 66; R Thomas for Rees, 66; M Owen for Gough, 66; M Phillips for Peel, 71.

Australia: C Latham; D Mitchell, S Mortlock (capt), M Giteau, L Tuqiri; B Barnes, G Gregan; M Dunning, S Moore, G Shepherdson, N Sharpe, D Vickerman, R Elsom, W Palu, G Smith. Replacements: S Staniforth for Mortlock, 41; P Waugh for Smith, 63; S Hoiles for Palu, 66; A Freier for Moore, 68; A Baxter for Shepherdson, 74; M Chisholm for Elsom, 76; J Huxley for Barnes 78.

Referee: S Walsh (New Zealand).