An extraordinary defensive display has handed the Wallabies victory in their all-important World Cup clash with Wales, extending an 11-game winning streak over their Pool A rivals.
The Wallabies produced a defensive performance for the ages to deny a valiant Welsh outfit, and did so with two players off the field during the second half – with halfback Will Genia and lock Dean Mumm sin-binned for cynical fouls within three minutes of each other.
They ultimately prevailed 15-6 in a gripping arm wrestle at Twickenham on Saturday (Sunday AEDT), with the right boot of five-eighth Bernard Foley proving decisive, contributing all of Australia’s points through five penalties.
The victory may have come at a cost, with stars David Pocock and Israel Folau both picking up injuries, but it gives Michael Cheika’s men top spot in Pool A and the more desirable finals path, with Scotland awaiting in the quarter finals, and South Africa and New Zealand avoided until a potential final.
During a remarkable seven-minute period in the second half, the Wallabies were reduced to 13 men and withstood wave after wave of Welsh attack on their line – three times denying attacking raids by holding attackers up over the tryline.
Genia had cynically tackled his opposite Gareth Davies, who had taken a quick tap, before Mumm joined him on the sidelines after grabbing hold of Alun Wyn Jones in the lineout.
Wales No.8 Taulupe Faletau lost control of the ball as he crossed the line soon after Mumm’s sin-binning.
Even more impressive was bench flanker Ben McCalman’s effort to deny a rampaging George North, who had been ankle-tapped by Foley in the lead-up.
The powerful-running centre was held up by McCalman over the line in a show of strength that kept Australia on top.
With both teams deploying two specialist No.7s in their starting lineups, the contest at the breakdown proved pivotal.
Wales brought a game plan with an intent to disrupt Australia’s breakdown dominance – with captain Sam Warburton, Justin Tipuric and Faletau happy to concede penalties to deny the Wallabies clean ball.
But the phenomenal work of No.8 Pocock, as well as openside flanker Sean McMahon, who stepped in for suspended vice-captain Michael Hooper, ensured the Wallabies enjoyed continued success in that area.
Pocock left the contest with 20 minutes to play after twice getting attention over a calf complaint, while Folau had to overcome a rolled ankle to take the field and also needed attention as the match went on.
Australia absorbed a mountain of early pressure, with Wales enjoying 79 per cent possession in the opening 20 minutes.
But as possession evened up, Australia began to emerge the stronger and took a 9-6 halftime lead thanks to another perfect display with the boot from Foley, who kicked three penalties.
A week after dominating England, the Wallabies’ scrum again held firm after early challenges and won two first-half penalties to assert its dominance.
Cheika was able to breathe easier in the final moments when Wales winger Alex Cuthbert was sin-binned in the 78th minute for a deliberate knock-down of a long cut-out pass.