Wales 29 Australia 29: Hook brightens the strangest day

Young stand-off and mighty Latham shine as Dragons and Wallabies fight to a standstill
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There was such a whiff of experimentation about Australia the team might have been created by Dr Frankenstein. Did it have legs? Well, yes and no, and that's the trouble with stalemates. They leave a sense of anti-climax, although Wales had no cause for complaint.

The Wallabies scored four tries to two and might have had a couple more. There again, had Chris Latham not been at full-back they would have lost. Latham was not a difficult choice as man of the match but he was in no mood for champagne. "We'll have to have a good look at this game," he said. "We wanted to win all seven games on this trip and this result certainly doesn't feel very good."

For the first draw in the 98-year history of competition between the countries the sponsors put up a trophy for the winners. It was held jointly by the captains, Phil Waugh of Australia and... Gareth Thomas of Wales. Stephen Jones, the de facto captain, had left the field after 23 minutes with a knee injury. By that stage Wales were 17-6 down, having conceded two tries to Australia's opening blitz and the Millennium Stadium had lost its voice.

When Jones went off things looked particularly grim and they would probably have been a lot grimmer but for James Hook. The 21-year-old Osprey, as cool as a cucumber, proceeded to give a marvellously mature performance. His distribution was excellent, his goalkicking spot on. Wales are fortunate to have such a talent on the bench.

In his first match in charge at home, Gareth Jenkins sounded like a man given a reprieve. "With our fightback in the first half we established a building block," he said. "Then we opened up what I thought was a winning lead but you have to give credit to the Aussies. In the second half we neutralised each other."

Whereas Wales selected on form and were back up to speed, give or take, with the players who pulled off a glorious Grand Slam in the 2005 Six Nations, the Australians hit the casino with a major gamble. Stephen Larkham is an acknowledged playmaker at stand-off so they put him at centre with Lote Tuqiri, a player who is happiest on the wing. At half-back they went for broke, playing Matt Giteau at scrum-half and Mat Rogers outside him.

"There are a number of things we would like to understand by the end of the tour," John Connolly, the Wallabies coach, said. "We weren't selling a Test match short, we were looking at options." Giteau is no George Gregan but he is a terrific threat elsewhere, and it is clear Tuqiri is no centre. Jenkins admitted: "The Australians seem to have a different agenda to us."

A year ago Wales won a similar match 24-22 and only two Wallaby forwards, Waugh and Nathan Sharpe, reappeared yesterday. Connolly has been trying to transform a pack that was notoriously brittle at the scrum. It may not collapse like a soufflé under an anvil now but there are still critical problems in the front row; witness Al Baxter going to ground almost every time he went head to head with Adam Jones.

Wales were far less secure at the line-out and not as confident as they might have been behind the scrum, where Dwayne Peel was nowhere near his best. They made four breaks compared to Australia's 13 and made three off-loads in the tackle. When they won the Slam they never stopped off-loading.

After Giteau and Stephen Jones exchanged penalties, the Wallabies scored a clever try through Cameron Shepherd, a blanket defence wrapping itself around Rogers. When a Wallaby scrum hit the deck Gavin Henson landed a long-ranger but in the 18th minute, awarded a penalty, Giteau tapped the ball to himself and darted over while Tom Shanklin was recovering from a blow to the head. To rub it in, Giteau's touchline conversion gave his side an 11-point lead.

Wales needed a break and they got several. Giteau hit an upright with a penalty and then for the first time the home back line clicked into gear. Hook, Henson and Shanklin lured Kevin Morgan into the line and the full-back slipped an inside pass to Shane Williams, who scored a trademark try.

Hook added the points from an acute angle and kicked a penalty to make it 17-16 to Australia at half-time. The young stand-off, who last season was a part-time player with Neath, was relishing his promotion. He executed a big hit on Tuqiri despite conceding about four stones and then kicked Wales into the lead in the 50th minute, after Shane Williams had been taken out by Larkham.

Wales's lead grew to nine points five minutes later when an Australian attack broke down, Shanklin kicked into space, Stephen Hoiles, who had just come on, failed to kill the ball and Martyn Williams won the race to touch down. No sooner had Giteau moved to centre in place of Larkham than he sliced open the defence and the reward was a second try for Shepherd. Wales's two-point advantage became a deficit when Morgan, who had an excellent game, made the fatal mistake of finding Latham instead of touch and the full-back scored the try of the match down the left touchline, beating Gareth Thomas, Henson and Ryan Jones. The Wallabies are not missing Matt Burke.

With 10 minutes left Wales levelled with another Hook penalty. Wales's last six matches have produced four defeats and two draws and the latter, as somebody said, is like kissing your sister.

MAN FOR MAN MARKING AT THE MILLENNIUM STADIUM

Wales

Star performer: Martyn Williams 9

Sharpness personified, sliding in for a wonderful opportunist second-half try and then on hand for a try-saving tackle on Waugh 15 minutes later.

Kevin Morgan 6

Inconsistent and lacking confidence. Figured in both Welsh tries and tackled firmly. But struggled when kicking from hand and running on to a pass.

Gareth Thomas 7

Returning to the colours after a "mini-stroke", and looking leaner, he took a while to find his feet but in the end his experience steadied the ship.

Tom Shanklin 6

One of four Grand Slam heroes back in harness, he will be kicking himself for the schoolboy lapse that let in Giteau. Got a grip after that, though.

Gavin Henson 8

Warned his detractors not to expect much. But after a boomer of a penalty and a succession of deft off-loads, his modesty seemed more like kidology.

Shane Williams 7

Once again the plusses outweighed the minuses as the quicksilver winger flitted about the park in pursuit of the ball. On hand for a memorable try.

Stephen Jones 5

Not the ideal afternoon for his debut as Wales captain. Despite two kicks on target, the ship was sinking when he was forced off after only 23 minutes.

Dwayne Peel 6

Another busy outing for the Welsh scrum-half but not, in honesty, his most mesmerising display. Worked hard, kept Aussie back row honest.

Gethin Jenkins 7

Switched to tighthead late on and produced the last-minute shove on Auustralia's put-in that secured the draw. Testament to his overall fitness.

Matthew Rees 6

Not an easy day for the young hooker. Generally timed his throwing well, but conceded a few soft line-outs. Looked mobile and committed in the loose.

Adam Jones 6

Improving as a set-piece performer to go with his undoubted qualities in open play. Scampered about and pulled off several important tackles.

Ian Gough 7

Surprisingly swift around the park and landed one morale-boosting tackle to stop Vickerman in his tracks. Gave Rees a safe target at the line-outs.

Ian Evans 6

At just 22 years and one month, the young lock seems destined for a long international career. He will look back on yesterday as a key step forward.

Jonathan Thomas 7

Fresh and lively as well as supplying solidity and bulk to the back row. Under-used by Ospreys so far this season, but unlikely to remain so for much longer

Ryan Jones 6

Another returning Grand Slammer. The flesh was willing as he barged and battered his way around, but he lacks the composure that made him a Lion.

Replacements

Duncan Jones 6

Replaced namesake for 15 minutes.

James Hook 8

Kicked flawlessly, looked the part.

Mark Jones

Not used.

Rhys Thomas

Not used.

Gavin Thomas

Not used.

Alun-Wyn Jones

Not used.

Michael Phillips

Not used.

Australia

Star performer: Chris Latham 9

An eye-catching chip-and-catch on the burst and several other telling forays were but an aperitif for his intoxicating, touchline-hugging try.

Clyde Rathbone 6

Entered into the spirit of versatility Scott Johnson is trying to inject by popping up on the left wing and in midfield. Made a limited impression.

Lote Tuqiri 6

The jury is out over whether he can double up as an effective centre at this level.Tackled as robustly as ever but had few chances to stretch his legs.

Stephen Larkham 7

The same could be said of this peerless fly-half. Inside-centre suited his probing runs and miss-passes, but he was also guilty of a few defensive indiscretions.

Cameron Shepherd 8

The most inexperienced threequarter was probably the pick of the visiting backs. Took both his tries well and was not afraid to take risks with the ball.

Mat Rogers 5

The experiment that worked least well. Seemed hesitant and unsure what was expected of him in the playmaking role. Gradually the mistakes multiplied.

Matt Giteau 8

Few centres could do a turn as scrum-half with such aplomb, even upstaging Peel for much of the time. His delivery was crisp and eye for a gap undimmed.

Al Baxter 5

The fickle finger of frailty will again be pointed at the Aussie loosehead after he became ragged late on and buckled on his team's put-in close to the end.

Tai McIsaac 6

The least experienced of the touring hookers, he should have learned a lot during his 40 minutes of action. Needs to impose himself more next time.

Rodney Blake 6

His sheer size and bulk alone ensured that Jenkins faced a challenging afternoon. But in the loose he was prone to silly errors, some of which cost points.

Nathan Sharpe 7

For Australia to have a chance in next year's World Cup they will need their senior lock to dominate in the engine room. Looked a little rusty yesterday.

Daniel Vickerman 7

Did his job in the line-out with enthusiasm and was keen to get his hands on the ball in the loose where possible. Not to be underestimated as a runner.

Rocky Elsom 6

For one regarded by his team-mates as the epitome of on-field dynamism, he bordered on anonymity. No doubt better days lie ahead.

Phil Waugh 7

Scrapped away in his inimitable way, unconcerned whether the ball was on the floor or in the air, but seemed to miss his partner in crime George Smith.

Wycliff Palu 7

A bit clumsy but produced an incisive first-half break through the Welsh defence. Hauled up short of the try line, hinting at a slight lack of fitness.

Replacements

Brendan Cannon 7

Brought authority to the Aussie pack.

Mark Chisholm 7

Gave Wales a hurry-up in the loose.

Stephen Hoiles 5

Looked what he is, an eager youth.

Josh Valentine 6

Young scrum-half, one for the future.

Benn Robinson

Not used.

Mark Gerrard

Not used.

Adam Ashley-Cooper

Not used.

Ratings by Paul Trow

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