RWC: Clinical Australia win bronze

Australia won at Eden Park for the first time in twenty-five years to claim the dubious honour of third place with clinical 21-18 victory over a lacklustre Welsh outfit missing a number of key players. The close score-line was helped by a consolation try and missed the dominance Australia had over Wales throughout a match that clearly exemplified the gulf in class between Northern and Southern Hemisphere rugby. Wales were troubled by the absence of Rhys Priestland in particular as his replacements failed miserably in front of goal for the second successive match; however Australia were in little danger of losing a game they never wished to partake in, producing their most clinical performance of the tournament to break their Eden Park hoodoo in style.

The first half saw the Australian bench see as much action as the scoreboard, losing two players in a slow half that finished 7-3. A tentative start from both teams saw injury diminish the powers of Nathan Sharpe in his hundredth test match, although he managed to soldier on before leaving in the second half, unlike the hamstrung Kurtley Beale. Australia began to show their intent by ignoring kickable penalties before Quade Cooper shook off his wobbly reputation to put Berrick Barnes clean through in the tenth minute; however the pantomime villain of the World Cup left the field himself to a nasty-looking knee injury ten minutes later. Wales had no problems kicking for points but struggled to impose themselves on the match, seeing a solitary foray into the Wallaby half result in their only points of the half. Australia was frustrated thereafter, failing to break down the efforts of a resilient Welsh defence despite their dominant territorial display that belied an injury crisis of sorts.

Wales attempted to fight back in the second half, buoyed by a belated reappearance of their trademark rush defence. Shane Williams benefitted from Wayne Barnes’ loose interpretation of the forward pass to put the Welsh in front by a point; however their goal-kicking once again let them down as James Hook registered his second miss of the half – and Wales’ fourth of the match in five attempts – only to see Australia retake and extend the lead through the boot of James O’Conner. A cheeky field goal from Berrick Barnes saw the game slip away from the Welsh at 16-8; despite an improved period from the Northern Hemisphere side, the Red Dragons struggled to break down the solid Australian defence. A forlorn attempt at a field goal by Shane Williams seemed to signal the end of the Welsh challenge as Wales appeared to run out of ideas; a try to No.8 Ben McCalman made sure of Australian victory with few minutes to spare before a late Leigh Half-Penny try added respectability to the score-line.