Warren Gatland had promised his side were capable of “something special” at this World Cup and once against Wales’ Great Redeemer has delivered.
A record-breaking victory over a hapless Australian side not only allowed Wales to become the first side to qualify for the quarter-finals at this World Cup, but also opened up the strong possibility of reaching the last four for the third time in four tournaments. Who said you should never go back?
Not a question that should be posed to Eddie Jones on a night that Australia produced one of their most wretched World Cup performances, crashing to a record defeat and almost certainly out of the tournament.
The Jones tenure has descended into a circus, with further reports that he has held talks with Japan despite a five-year contract with the Wallabies, and fierce criticism from former players about his selections and tactics. Now he faces the prospect of a second sacking in under a year.
As Jones held his head in his hands at the end, Gatland stood tall, beaming. The 60-year-old had insisted he was not afraid to put his legacy on the line when he returned to replace Wayne Pivac in December, but with Welsh rugby plunging into chaos – on and off the pitch – shortly afterwards, many questioned the wisdom of the decision after two wins from eight games.
But victories over Fiji, Portugal and now Australia have given a nation a reason to believe again. And with the prospect of facing Argentina or Samoa in the quarter-finals, Gatland will believe now that his side can once again reach the last four as they did in 2011 and 2019.
It was a stunning performance by his side, who scored tries through Gareth Davies, Nick Tompkins and Jac Morgan – all of whom were sensational on the night – while Gareth Anscombe landed six penalties and a drop-goal with Australia only able to muster two penalties by make-shift fly-half Ben Donaldson.
It was a stunning opening by Wales. Two launch plays from perfect off-the-top line-out ball, the second of which culminated in a brilliant try by Davies.
Nick Tompkins drifted wide in the midfield, tempting Donaldson to shoot up, only for the Wales centre to flick the pass inside to Jac Morgan who burst through the hole before putting Davies under the posts. It was a training ground strike executed to perfection.
It was the kind of start that could have pierced deep into Australia’s morale, given the Jones circus, but to their credit, the Wallabies rallied swiftly – and with purpose and menace.
First Kerevi and Nawaqanitawase hit up hard, Wales conceded a penalty and kicked to the corner. Frost and Nawaqanitawase carried again, Kerevi broke through two tackles, but Bell could not hold the pass five metres out after Arnold hit a probing line.
With Wales’ set piece beginning to creak, particularly their scrum, Donaldson was able to land two penalties to bring the Wallabies right back into the contest. A shoulder injury to Biggar further tested Wales’ resilience and soon after the Wales fly-half had to be replaced by Gareth Anscombe.
It felt like Wales were hanging on. But after Anscombe hit the post with a long-range penalty, from the subsequent line-out, Wales turned to their maul as a means of attack. A huge shunt forced a penalty for collapsing and Anscombe was able to extend the lead to four points.
More importantly, it appeared to settle Wales’ nerves and injected a renewed sense of confidence in their attacking game.
Australia’s early set-piece piece dominance eroded. Donaldson turned down a penalty shot at goal to kick to the corner but the line-out went askew, Morgan came away with the ball and kicked long to win a stunning 50:22 line-out for Wales. With a golden attacking opportunity wasted for Australia, Wales turned the screw from the line-out, with Anscombe landing his second penalty after the Wallabies were caught offside.
Australia’s hopes of playing their way back into the game were further hampered by a remarkable defensive workload by Wales, who passed the 100 mark of tackles before the half was even up. Gatland promised his side would be fitter than most and their energy levels were impressive.
Another driving maul again had Australia on the back foot, Anscombe nudged a cross-field kick to Adams but the wing could not stay in touch, but the Wales wing moments later won another penalty after beating Donaldson to the high ball before Valetini illegally dived on the loose ball within a metre of the ruck.
Anscombe was on target again and just before half-time Wales landed another huge psychological blow by winning a scrum penalty after Donaldson had kicked his restart out on the full. Faletau sprung free from the back of the scrum, North surged up the right-hand touchline to put Rees-Zammit free. Australia scrambled to hold up Morgan over the line. But the game was already slipping away from Australia.
With such a solid foundation, it was little surprise that Wales would kick on for victory. What was a surprise was how quickly Australia’s resistance would collapse.
Tompkins won a maul turnover from the kick-off by holding up Arnold, Wales won the penalty from the resultant scrum and Anscombe stretched the lead to 13 points.
Davies kicked another 50:22 from the base of a scrum, and moments later Anscombe landed the killer blow with a chip over the Australian defence for Tompkins to race through and gather for a try.
Wales took total control in what deteriorated into a training run. Anscombe landed another penalty after Kerevi caught the excellent Tompkins with a high tackle.
With set-piece dominance, Wales were able to cut open Australia almost at will and held the edge at every collision. The Wallabies’ desperation was perhaps best summed up when McDermott skied a box-kick, his team-mates failed to retire 10 metres and Anscombe landed his sixth penalty.
It was left to Anscombe to land a drop-goal and a late try by Morgan from a line-out to complete a stunning victory. Gatland marches on. For Jones, the future looks bleak.
Scoring sequence: 5-0 Davies try, 7-0 Biggar con, 7-3 Donaldson pen, 7-6 Donaldson pen, 10-6 Anscombe pen, 13-6 Anscombe pen, 16-6 Anscombe pen, 19-6 Anscombe pen, 24-6 Tompkins try, 26-6 Anscombe con, 29-6 Anscombe pen, 32-6 Anscombe pen, 35-6 Anscombe drop goal, 40-6 Morgan try
Wales: L Williams; L Rees-Zammit (R Dyer 71), G North, N Tompkins, J Adams; D Biggar (G Anscombe 12), G Davies (T Williams 60); G Thomas (C Domachowski 67), R Elias (E Dee 67), T Francis (H Thomas 67), W Rowlands ( D Jenkins 71), A Beard, A Wainwright (T Basham 71), J Morgan (c), T Faletau
Australia: A Kellaway (S Vunivalu 60); M Nawaqanitawase, J Petaia, S Kerevi, M Koroibete; B Donaldson (C Gordon 53), T McDermott (N White 68); A Bell (B Schoupp 68), D Porecki (c, M Faessler 60), J Slipper (P Fa’amausili 40), N Frost, R Arnold (M Philip 66), R Leota (F McReight 50), T Hooper, R Valetini
Referee: W Barnes (Eng)
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