Autumn internationals: Wales 9-6 Australia

By Dafydd PritchardBBC Sport Wales at the Principality Stadium
Autumn International
Wales (3) 9
Pens: Halfpenny 2, Biggar
Australia (3) 6
Pens: Foley, To'omua

Wales beat Australia for the first time since 2008 as Dan Biggar's late penalty settled a low-scoring but nerve-shredding encounter in Cardiff.

Defences reigned supreme in a rugged first half which ended 3-3, with Leigh Halfpenny uncharacteristically missing a simple kick for the hosts.

A gritty second period followed suit, Halfpenny edging Wales in front 6-3.

Matt To'omua drew Australia level with five minutes left but, two minutes later, Biggar struck the decisive blow.

It was a cathartic moment for an emotional Principality Stadium crowd, who had seen Wales beaten in similarly late and dramatic circumstances against the Wallabies on so many occasions in the past.

And there will have been a sense of regret for Australia, who had chances to take the lead early in the second half but, presented with kickable penalties, twice opted for the corner and emerged from both attacks empty-handed.

Wales made them pay. With their replacements coming on to up the ante in the closing stages, they forced their opponents back towards their own line and, with Halfpenny off the field injured, substitute Biggar was a picture of composure as he converted the vital penalty.

Wales finally end losing run

Like the golden-brown hues of falling leaves and the dropping temperatures, Wales losing to Australia had become an autumn tradition over the past decade.

A run of 13 straight defeats stretched back to 2008, many of them due to dramatic late scores and most by painfully narrow margins - of the 13 losses, only two were by 10 points or more.

Wales, however, were quietly confident of stopping the rot.

They had won their six previous matches, whereas the Wallabies had won only three of their 10 Tests in 2018 and slipped to an historic low of seventh in the world rankings, albeit returning to sixth courtesy of Scotland's loss in Cardiff last week.

Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny had an uncharacteristic off-day with the boot against Australia
Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny had an uncharacteristic off-day with the boot against Australia

But such is Australia's competitive spirit and their strong record against Wales, one writes them off at their peril.

As ever, the visitors were devilishly competitive at the breakdown, with back-rowers David Pocock and Michael Hooper often slowing Wales' ball.

And despite the occasional flash of Wallaby flair in the opening exchanges, the home side managed to do the same to their opponents in an attritional first half.

Neither side could puncture the opposing defensive line, with each having to be content with a penalty apiece through Halfpenny and Bernard Foley.

Surprisingly, the usually accurate Halfpenny pushed one penalty wide of the post shortly before the interval, and the full-back put his head in his hands when he then squandered a second kick at goal.

Normal service was resumed after the break, however, with the Scarlets full-back restoring Wales' lead with 13 minutes left.

Halfpenny was then involved in a moment of controversy, as he was tackled late by Samu Kerevi, who escaped punishment despite appearing to catch the Wales player's head with his shoulder.

Rather than a Wales penalty, referee Ben O'Keeffe awarded one to Australia for a different infringement and To'omua struck it perfectly from the touchline to bring his side level.

At that moment, the Welsh fans felt a dreaded sense of déjà vu: the old recurring nightmare of late heartache against the Wallabies.

But Wales were determined to exorcise those demons and their reward for a wholehearted and disciplined display was Biggar's penalty - on the field for a dazed-looking Halfpenny - which prompted deafening roars of celebration and banished a decade of hurt.

Wales' World Cup audition

This autumn series is something of an audition for Wales' players, who are looking to secure their squad places with next year's World Cup in mind.

With a view to improving their strength in depth and rewarding those who impressed on the summer tour of the United States and Argentina, head coach Warren Gatland handed starts to fringe players such as wing Josh Adams and lock Adam Beard at the expense of more seasoned players.

British and Irish Lions backs Liam Williams and Biggar were instead named on the bench, along with lock Cory Hill who had co-captained Wales on that summer tour.

Worcester wing Josh Adams was given a starting Wales berth against Australia
Worcester wing Josh Adams was given a starting Wales berth against Australia

There were few opportunities for Adams to showcase his attacking skills in a tight encounter, while Beard occasionally used his enormous 6ft 8in frame to good use by disrupting Australian line-outs.

But Gatland will have learned that his less experienced charges can stand the heat of Test rugby against a southern hemisphere powerhouse.

The New Zealander will also have been pleased with the impact of his replacements - Williams, Hill, Biggar, Tomos Williams, Rob Evans, Ellis Jenkins and Dillon Lewis - whose impact he had highlighted before the match as a potentially decisive factor considering Wales' previous late defeats against the Wallabies.

And given that Australia are in the same World Cup pool as Wales, this was a timely moment to end their decade-long hoodoo and land a significant psychological blow against their old foes before they meet again in Japan next year.

Wales: 15-Halfpenny, 14-North, 13-Davies, 12-Parkes, 11-Adams, 10-Anscombe, 9-Davies; 1-Smith, 2-Owens, 3-Francis, 4-Beard, 5-Wyn Jones (captain), 6-Lydiate, 7-Tipuric, 8-Moriarty

Replacements: 16-Dee, 17-Evans, 18-Lewis, 19-Hill, 20-Jenkins, 21-Williams, 22-Biggar, 23-Williams.

Australia: 15-Haylett-Petty, 14-Folau, 13-Kerevi, 12-Beale, 11-Naivalu, 10-Foley, 9-Genia; 1-Sio, 2-Latu, 3-Alaalatoa, 4-Rodda, 5-Coleman, 6-Dempsey, 7-Hooper (captain), 8-Pocock.

Replacements: 16-Polota-Nau, 17-Kepu, 18-Tupou, 19-Simmons, 20-Hanigan, 21-Phipps, 22-To'omua, 23-Maddocks

Referee: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)

Touch judges: Romain Poite (France) & Brendan Pickerill (New Zealand)

TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)

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