Rugby World Cup 2019: Wales see off second-half Australia fightback to put one foot in quarter-finals

Australia 25-29 Wales: The Welsh put one foot in the World Cup quarter-finals and announced themselves as major title contenders after beating Australia in an instant classic

Jack de Menezes
Tokyo Stadium
Sunday 29 September 2019 11:01
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Rugby World Cup 2019 in numbers

Wales secured their first victory over a southern hemisphere team in 32 years by beating Australia 29-25 in a breath-taking contest, finally getting the monkey off their back while also signalling the beginning of much greater things to come.

If Wales are to reign over Yokohama on 2 November then this night will have plenty to do with it. Having not beaten the Wallabies – or their fellow southern hemisphere giants – since the inaugural 1987 tournament, this was more about sending a statement than anything else: Wales are here to win the World Cup.

Inspired by the brilliant scrum-half Gareth Davies, Wales burst out of the blocks to lead by 18 points early in the second half but, as has happened so many times before, it all came down to a nail-biting one-score finish.

This time, however, history was on Wales’s side.

It was a match given big billing by World Rugby: the Sunday afternoon slot on the second weekend of pool fixtures. And boy it did not disappoint.

From the very start of the match Wales went about trying to assert a dominance that they don’t usually enjoy at World Cups. And it was a tactic that worked, as within a minute they had the lead. Wales immediately turned over the first ruck after Michael Hooper claimed the kick-off, the ball was set back to Dan Biggar and he was quickly heading for the restart after firing off a rarely-seen drop-goal.

The opening quarter was all about Wales. It doesn’t take much for this squad to rise to the occasion as they have shown countless times before, and it was evident how were pumped up for this one.

The tone was further set when Australia found themselves forced to concede penalty infringements in order to prevent try-scoring chances. That gave Wales numerous free plays to shoot for the line, and the at the first opportunity after Rory Arnold high-tackled Alun Wyn Jones, Biggar sent up a high cross-field kick that exposed Marika Koroibete and allowed Parkes to catch cleanly and score.

The conversion gave Wales an early double-digit lead, and Australia’s jitters revealed themselves when captain Hooper levelled Biggar with a late tackle that in this current grey area of rugby officiating could have been yellow on another day.

But Australia were starting to find an ascendancy in the scrum and it proved the basis for their opening score.

With Wales threatening on the 22, Genia trapped a retreating Navidi at the base and ‘Pooper’ flooded in to win the penalty that sent the Wallabies marching up the field. With Australia now on the front foot that they crave, Samu Kerevi smashed through the midfield and, with Wales scrambling, Bernard Foley sent an inch-perfect cross-field kick to Adam Ashley-Cooper to dance inside Adams and Liam Williams to score.

Kerevi would also figure in another pivotal first-half moment. Williams looked to chase his own up-and-under, but the bounce settled nicely into Will Genia’s arms and he released Koroibete rampaging up-field. With North conceding the penalty advantage, Kerevi had a free play and fixed Jonathan Davies beautifully, leaving just Biggar to beat.

The fly-half put his body on the line with a tackle you’d never want you child to repeat on the weekend, but it did enough to dislodge the ball into touch.

Davies dives for the line

Biggar departed, HIA failed. His day was done.

Foley kicked the penalty to cut the lead to two as on came Rhys Patchell in what was the biggest occasion of his rugby career. Soon enough he was increasing the lead with his first penalty after Hooper infringed at the ruck, and immediately after he was at the centre of attentions. Kerevi attempted to run through the fly-half with Patchell taking the centre high, but as play went on, TMO Ben Skeen had spotted the Fiji-born centre shoving his forearm into Patchell’s throat.

Those wearing gold inside the stadium were incensed, but Patchell kept his nerve to kick his second penalty.

With two minutes of the half remaining, Wales just needed to see out the first forty, refuel and regroup, and focus on the second half. Not in Davies’s mind. The scrum-half had already intercepted once and he launched off the line with his trademark move to pick off Genia’s attempted pass to Allan Alaalatoa to go the distance and score. With Patchell’s conversion, Wales lead by 15 at the break and surely the curse was being lifted, with Australia needing a record World Cup comeback to win it.

Australia fought back in the second-half

That lead grew further with Patchell’s drop-goal four minutes into the second half, boos ringing out from the green and gold in what was a release of frustration and horror more than anything. But we know what happens with Australia and Wales. It’s never easy.

Two minutes after coming on, Matt Toomua showed why there were loud calls for him to start instead of Foley. The former Leicester fly-half broke down the left to combine with Koroibete. Williams stopped him but with play recycled quickly, Genia passed outside to Pocock, who used his strength to wear the tackles of Patchell and Aaron Wainwright and offload to Dane Haylett-Petty to score.

Australia knew they needed tries at 11 points down, and entering the final quarter, they got another back. Camped on the Welsh line a series of pick-and-goes had Wales on the ropes, with infringement after infringement coming. When Justin Tipuric was spotted offside, Poite had decided he’d seen enough and the flanker was going to the bin, only Hooper delivered the try for his side that possibly saved their hopes, and definitely saved the Welshman. How crucial was that try in doing the latter?

Toomua added another penalty when Wales wheeled the scrum 12 minutes from time, but the 15-man defensive effort was holding the Wallabies at bay. With a point between them at 25-26 and 10 minutes remaining, it was anyone’s game.

Yet, with a lineout infringement from replacement Lukhan Salakai-Loto, Patchell stretched the lead to the four points that it remained until the end. As time ran out in Tokyo, the floodlights began to fail in the Stadium. But Wales’s World Cup hopes are alive and burning brightly.

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