Australia end European tour with narrow win over Wales
By Rob Lancaster. Last Updated: 30/11/13 9:12pm
Australia stretched their unbeaten run over Wales to nine matches with a 30-26 triumph - but only after they survived in a gripping finish to a see-saw clash in Cardiff.
George North gave the hosts the perfect start, scoring the second fastest try ever seen at the Millennium Stadium, to raise hopes that they would finally end their barren run against the men in green and gold.
Yet the Wallabies came bouncing back in fine style having found themselves 13-3 down, finishing an absorbing opening half one point in front thanks to tries from Christian Leali'ifano and Israel Folau.
Joe Tomane added a further score after the break and with Leali'ifano booting 15 points, Ewen McKenzie's side looked home and hosed at 30-16 ahead.
In the end, though, they were made to work right through to the final whistle by their hosts. North grabbed his second try yet although they got within four, Wales were unable to end their autumn campaign on a winning note.
If Wales had perhaps hoped the spirit of the British and Irish Lions might help them stop the rot against Australia, then it was one of the stars of that summer tour who gave them the lead inside 70 seconds.
North was given the chance to stretch his legs down the left touchline before eventually hacking on; Adam Ashley-Cooper looked to have it covered, only for the centre to inadvertently shin it towards his own line and let the winger in for the easiest of scores.
Leigh Halfpenny added the conversion and was also on target with a pair of penalties, as Australia found themselves 13-3 down after 18 minutes. However, their response to falling behind by double digits was emphatic.
Turnover ball forced by Michael Hooper was worked from left to right and Quade Cooper produced a back-of-the-hand offload out to Tomane, who in turn sent the ball back on the inside for the supporting Leali'ifano to finish.
Dan Biggar took over kicking duties from Halfpenny to add a penalty but then failed to make it through to half time, referee Wayne Barnes spotting him killing the ball and pulling out a yellow card, leaving Wales down to 14 men.
Australia took full advantage before the interval, Folau forcing his way through after North and Richard Hibbard had produced monumental hits to prevent their line from being breached.
The game showed no signs of slowing down at the start of the second half, Leali'ifano adding an early penalty before Tomane picked a debatable pass from Folau off his boot laces to dive over in the right corner.
The conversion was duly added from the touchline and a further Leali'ifano penalty opened up a 14-point gap, with Wales barely suggesting at that stage they would make a game of it in the closing quarter.
Yet their hopes were reignited by that man North, a neat side-step from the Northampton player opening up a gap big enough for him to rush through and finish underneath the uprights. Biggar knocked over the easy kick before making way for Rhys Priestland, who cut the gap to four with a penalty.
Yet another thrilling finish between the two nations was then set up by the sin-binning of Cooper with four minutes to go, the fly-half perhaps a little harshly dealt with for playing the man without the ball.
Wales opted to kick the resulting penalty for touch but saw nothing come of the line-out. It was their final shot at glory, meaning yet again they came up short. They have lost to the Wallabies six times by six points or less and have come out on the wrong side in 18 straight Test matches against southern hemisphere opponents.
Autumn international 2013: Wales v Australia
Australia coach Ewen McKenzie was delighted with the way his side played in their 30-26 victory over Wales in Cardiff.
Warren Gatland praised the courage shown by Wales after they fell short in their comeback bid against Australia.