Wales salvage pride with late rally

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The Independent Online
Australia 56

Wales 25

Wales eventually went down with honour at Ballymore after a fine second-half comeback, just when Australia were threatening to inflict an even heavier defeat than the 63-6 humiliation Wales suffered on the same ground five years ago.

When Pat Howard crossed for Australia's fifth try after 54 minutes and Matthew Burke stroked over the conversion to make the score 42-6, Wales were staring disaster in the face. But, whatever shortcomings Jonathan Humphreys' team have, they do not lack determination.

In 12 minutes they put the Australians under great pressure and, as their seemingly impregnable defence buckled, Wales gained their reward in the shape of three tries.

Wayne Proctor provided the first hint of encouragement by charging down a Burke clearance kick before regathering to sprint to the corner. Neil Jenkins converted magnificently. Two minutes later the small contingent of Welsh fans were cheering once more as Hemi Taylor bullocked over, Jenkins converting again. Australia hit back immediately with a try by Alistair Murdoch before Gareth Llewellyn scored the third and final Welsh try, made by the pace of Rob Howley, who had a fine game along with the back- row men, Gwyn Jones and Steve Williams.

It was never going to be enough to change the course of the match, but it was at least compensation for the error-filled first hour when Wales handed the match to Australia with a series of naive mistakes, each of which was punished with a try.

Australia started their first Test in 10 months with nine changes to the side beaten by New Zealand in the Bledisloe Cup last August, with the side coached by Greg Smith for the first time since taking over from Bob Dwyer last year.

The Australian harvest of points started when Joe Roff went over after just 54 seconds. Hooker Marco Caputo made an instant impression on his Test debut and in the 14th minute he crossed for a try after a strong run through the middle of the Welsh pack.

The Australian flanker, David Wilson, scored his side's third try, with Neil Jenkins putting Wales on the scoreboard with two first-half penalties.

Sections of the crowd of 19,800 jeered both sides during the opening period, but they were rewarded for their patience after half-time when Burke lit up the field in the 49th minute.

He caught a high ball from the Welsh full-back Wayne Proctor in midfield and skirted the left touchline before kicking over the head of Ieuan Evans. Burke regathered and then sent a long ball infield which beat three defenders for No 8 Daniel Manu to score. Four minutes later Howard added that fifth try.

Australia: M Burke (NSW); D Campese (NSW), J Roff (ACT), T Horan (Queensland), A Murdoch (NSW); P Howard (ACT), G Grehan (ACT); R Harry (NSW), M Caputo (ACT), E McKenzie (ACT), J Eales (Queensland, captain), G Morgan (Quensland), O Finnegan (ACT), D Manu (NSW), D Wilson (Queensland). Replacements: M Brial for Manu.

Wales: W Proctor (Llanelli); I Evans (Llanelli), L Davies (Neath), N Davies (Llanelli), G Thomas (Pontypridd); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Howley (Bridgend); C Loader (Swansea), J Humphreys (Cardiff, captain), J Davies (Neath), G Llewellyn (Harlequins), D Jones (Cardiff), H Taylor (Cardiff), S Williams (Neath), G Jones (Llanelli). Replacements: M Voyle for G Jones; L Mustoe for Davies.

Referee: G Wahlstrom (New Zealand).