Australia limbering up

17th Sep 2007, 08:41


Australia players celebrate their third try

Australia players celebrate their third try

Australia have once again underlined their credentials as serious World Cup contenders, after beating Wales 32-20 in Cardiff.

Australia have once again underlined their credentials as serious World Cup contenders, after beating Wales 32-20 in Cardiff on Saturday to claim pole position in Pool B.

The Welsh delivered an abject first half, also punctuated unhelpfully by injuries to key personnel, at the end of which they were down by 22 points, and although there was a marked second-half improvement, a horrendous error by Stephen Jones gifted the Wallabies all their momentum back.

The stage was set for yet another bone-crunching spectacle between two rugby proud nations keen to show off their craft in front of a jam-packed Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

What a shame then for the dedicated Welsh supporters that their team failed to come to the party. It was as if all they came for was the cake and ignored the theme altogether. Australia were the magicians of the first half and made the Welsh party-poopers look like a bunch of clowns.

Wallabies captain Stirling Mortlock waved his magic wand inside the opening two minutes with a well-executed penalty kick that gave his team an early lead. Stephen Jones cancelled out Mortlock's penalty but he was wide with two further attempts while the game was technically still in the balance.

Wales were determined at times to take the game to the Wallabies, perhaps a little too much though after centre Sonny Parker was stretchered off and Colin Charvis had an appointment in the blood bin.

It was round about this time that the Wallabies struck with their first - and perhaps best - try of the match after a superb break from rookie and late replacement Berrick Barnes. The 21-year-old was thrown into the deep end after regular pivot Stephen Larkham pulled out of the match with a knee injury.

The former rugby league player certainly did not disappoint after throwing a wild dummy that ended up with Matt Giteau under the posts and Barnes on the floor after a malicious tackle from Gareth Thomas.

The Wales skipper stood his ground and quite literally stopped Barnes in his tracks with a tackle that involved more shoulder and less arms - oh, and it was late. The outcome was a converted try, but Thomas may have a meeting with the citing commission later this week, though that may not have much affect on the Welsh star after he too was forced to leave the field clutching his arm after a collision with Mortlock in the midfield.

Thomas's injury meant James Hook - who was benched for this encounter - was called on to carry on the midfield duties with Kevin Morgan now controlling things at full-back in Parker's absence.

Barnes made a quick recovery from his earlier knock to nail a brilliantly taken drop-goal that flew a good 35 metres to take Australia into a ten point lead. It could have been more had Mortlock not missed a sitter after Martyn Williams was penalised for holding on.

However he made up for his earlier blunder with a try of his own thanks to some quick reaction work from prop Matt Dunning and a sweetly-timed chip from veteran scrum-half George Gregan.

With Wales on the attack, Mark Jones panicked and passed the ball in the tackle to his imaginary friend. Dunning pounced and offloaded to Gregan who sent in the kick that was well gathered by a chasing Mortlock, who picked up an injury for his efforts.

With Mortlock receiving medical treatment for a damaged forearm, Giteau was called upon to take over the kicking duties and fluffed his first attempt.

At 15-3, Wales were not completely out of it. That was until a wheeling scrum resulted in big number eight Wycliff Palu picking up from the back and sending the ball through the Wallabies backline to Drew Mitchell on the wing. Running out of space, Mitchell stepped inside before releasing a charging Chris Latham who powered over in the corner at the stroke of half-time.

Mortlock made the tricky touchline conversion and Australia had the match in the bag with a convincing 25-3 half-time lead.

After the interval, Mortlock was given a deserved rest and replaced by Scott Staniforth at number thirteen.

Wales jumped out of the half-time paddocks with a try to number eight Jonathan Thomas after a barrage of attacks on the Australians' try-line. Hook converted and suddenly Wales were almost back in the game.

Another Hook penalty confirmed this in the 50th minute, but he missed another ten minutes later. Wales were looking much better with just twenty minutes left to play.

Welsh hearts were then broken after a shocking mistake from Stephen Jones gave Australia their winning score to seal the match.

It was Latham again on the counter that cause the all the heartache for Wales after sending up a huge up-and-under on the Welsh defenders. Jones looked to have it under control, but the ball hit his shoulder and bounced into the hands of Latham, who followed his kick up brilliantly to score untouched beside the posts.

Giteau added the extras and suddenly Wales were back were they started the half - down and out.

Yellow cards shown to Drew Mitchell (dangerous tackle) and Nathan Sharpe (professional foul) in the 65th and 74th minute respectively, gave Wales a vague reprise.

Any team unable to score against a team with two men down probably deserves to lose - and it nearly was the case for Wales after losing a scrum and two line-outs in quick succession.

However the ever-present Shane Williams was rewarded with a consolation try for Wales after knocking the ball out of Giteau's arms, picking up and touching down in the corner. The replay did show the winger knocked on from the initial tackle, but it barely mattered by then anyway

The touchline conversion was made by Hook and with two minutes left to play, Wales played better in that short space of time than they did the entire match. Though, as usual, it was just too little too late and Australia held out several Welsh attacks to walk away deserved victors.

Man of the match: For Wales, Tom Shanklin was again on top of his game and did what he could with little ball he was given. Try-scoring winger Shane Williams was like an annoying mosquito for the Wallabies who could have bitten a lot more if some gaps had opened up. For Australia, hardworking flank George Smith was a pillar of strength on attack and defence. Berrick Barnes made a dream starting debut, while Stirling Mortlock - only on for the first 40 minutes - was sensational in the midfield. However, our vote goes to Wallaby veteran full-back Chris Latham who, like a fine red wine, just seems to just get better with age. Second in Australia's all time try-scoring list, Latham's two tries takes his overall total to 39 in 75 appearances and his World Cup tally to 10 in four matches.

Moment of the match: Stephen Jones's dropped catch that led to Latham's second try and ultimately the game for Australia. A slap in the face for any Welsh supporter!