Planet Rugby

Wales finish November on a high

29th November 2008 16:15

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Lee Byrne scores against Australia in Wales

You beauty: Byrne scores a vital try for Wales

Wales finally got what they had been after, a Southern Hemisphere scalp, when they beat Australia 21-18 in a vintage game of rugby at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

The home side, desperate to be recognised as one of the world's top sides, came into the game on the back of morale-sapping defeats at the hands of South Africa and then New Zealand. Australia knew a win would see them finish their European tour unbeaten - as it was that eluded them, but what a game of rugby!

After a series of one-sided and kicking-orientated Test matches in November, both sides served up a fine Test match packed full of excitement and tension. More than that it proved Wales have the ability, if not always the application, to mix it with the top dogs of world rugby.

The early omens favoured Wales, first Stirling Mortlock departed with barely two minutes on the board, and then two minutes later Wales scored with such ease from a well-constructed move. Shane Williams started and finished the move by freeing Lee Byrne and Jamie Roberts before popping up on the wing to score his 44th Test try.

But any hopes of a bright start yielding anything more than Williams' try were dashed when Mark Chisholm raced over sixty metres for a try against the run of play, silencing the crowd in the process. Moments later and Jamie Roberts, who had collided with Mortlock in the opening minutes, also left the field of play, and suddenly the pendulum had swung the way of Australia.

Matt Giteau added a clever drop goal, after Wales held firm under a barrage of attacks, and it seemed as if Australia were slowly taking control. Despite defeats against South Africa and New Zealand, Wales retained a positive mindset and refused to let the Wallabies settle into a rhythm, attacking at every chance.

Wales' ability to offload in the tackle had Australia at sixes and sevens and following a barnstorming run from Andy Powell they were off and running again. There was no try, but a yellow card to Stephen Moore and three points from the boot of Stephen Jones allowed the home side to retain their grip on the game, despite a few areas of concern.

An over-throw at the line-out allowed Chisholm to get Australia going, and continued problems for hooker Matthew Rees hampered Wales as they looked to maintain their tempo and intensity with ball in hand.

Despite problems at the line-out, and a lack of impact in the midfield without Roberts on the field, Wales found their attacking intent again and reaped the rewards with a fine try. Powell started the move, jinking past several hapless Wallaby defenders, before charging forward to give Wales the impetus they so badly needed.

On the back of Powell's run Wales stretched Australia across the width of the pitch, before Byrne picked a sublime angle off Shane Williams' shoulder to slice through under the posts. The belief was restored as Wales went into half-time with a five-point cushion, and they had only played in patches.

A fluffed Jones penalty in the opening minute of the second half denied Wales the chance to extend their lead, followed by a successful effort from Giteau to narrow the gap to two points. Jones then proceeded to miss another relatively simple chance as Wales continued to pressure their opponents.

With the game hanging in the balance, both sides continued to chance their arm, adding to what was already a tremendous Test. Powell, as superbly as he was playing with ball in hand, was beginning to haemorrhage penalties which slowly began to cost Wales valuable field position. Warren Gatland, not wanting to take any risks, hauled Powell off to rousing applause as Wales looked to capitalise on a golden opportunity.

Finally, after two failed attempts in previous weeks, Wales showed the composure and discipline to close out a game, and in some style. Jones kicked his second penalty, following another spell of solid defence from Wales, to give Gatland's troops a two-score margin - a priceless commodity in Test rugby when the clock is ticking.

However, never ones to go quietly into the night, Australia rallied for one last attack and, finding Wales wanting in defence eventually, scored to set up a grandstand finish. Giteau missed his drop-kick conversion and despite the hooter sounding Alan Lewis insisted the restart was taken.

Cue three minutes of frantic rugby as Australia looked for an unlikely win, and Wales defended as if their lives depended on it. Knowing the way Gatland reacted to defeat against South Africa you wouldn't blame them for thinking exactly that.

The tackles continued to fly in and eventually Wales forced the all-important error that sealed a memorable victory. With the Six Nations looming on the horizon Gatland will be full of confidence that his side can defend their crown, and will want them to raise the standards once again - at least if he wants to see them beating the world's best on a regular basis.

Man of the Match: So many candidates from both sides after a superb game. Matt Giteau was full of life, if not a little lost without Stirling Mortlock by his side, whilst Nathan Sharpe and Mark Chisholm got through a huge amount of work in defence and attack. Wales too had their heroes, Stephen Jones was as strong as ever at fly-half, Gareth Cooper finally delivered a performance worthy of Test rugby and Andy Powell was back to his all-action best. But Lee Byrne, full of running, tireless in defence and lethal with ball in hand wins this award. A worthy mention to the rest of those who took part, for all played their part.

Moment of the Match: With twenty minutes still to play Australia were pressing hard for a decisive score, with Wales hanging on for dear life. As the phases mounted so did the pressure on Wales, until somehow Martyn Williams won a vital turnover that was greeted with a roar as if Wales had just won the game.

Villain of the Match: Plenty of tension but nothing that detracted from this classic game of rugby.

The Scorers:

For Wales:

Tries: S.Williams, Byrne

Con: S.Jones

Pens: S.Jones 2

Drop goal: S.Jones

For Australia:

Tries: Chisholm, Ioane

Con: Giteau

Pen: Giteau

Drop goal: Giteau

Yellow card: Moore (Australia - 28th minute; deliberate killing of the ball)

The teams:

Wales: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Mark Jones, 13 Tom Shanklin, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Gareth Cooper, 8 Andy Powell, 7 Martyn Williams, 6 Ryan Jones (c), 5 Alun-Wyn Jones, 4 Ian Gough, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Gethin Jenkins.

Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 John Yapp, 18 Luke Charteris, 19 Dafydd Jones, 20 Martin Roberts, 21 James Hook, 22 Andrew Bishop.

Australia: 15 Drew Mitchell, 14 Peter Hynes, 13 Ryan Cross, 12 Stirling Mortlock (c), 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Richard Brown, 7 Phil Waugh, 6 Hugh McMeniman, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Mark Chisholm, 3 Al Baxter, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Benn Robinson.

Replacements: 16 Adam Freier, 17 Matt Dunning, 18 Dean Mumm, 19 George Smith, 20 Sam Cordingley, 21 Quade Cooper, 22 Lote Tuqiri/Adam Ashley-Cooper.

Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland)

Touch judges: Dave Pearson (England), Romain Poite (France)

Television match official: Peter Allan (Scotland)

Assessor: Michel Lamoulie (France)

By Marcus Leach

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