AUSTRALIA captain Stephen Moore has hailed the Wallabies’ defensive resilience that thwarted Wales and kept them on course for a possible third world title.
Although five Bernard Foley penalties saw Australia home 15-6 at Twickenham on Saturday night, it was a remarkable seven-minute spell of stonewall defence that held the key to a victory that set up a quarter-final tussle with Scotland on Sunday.
Scrum-half Will Genia and lock Dean Mumm had received yellow cards in rapid succession, yet despite Wales pummelling away at their line, Australia somehow held out through a 13-man effort that bordered on the heroic.
“It is one of the best wins I’ve been involved with in this team. I am so proud of all the boys,” Moore said. “We had to defend with 13 players for long periods, and I am really proud about how we stuck in for each other.
“The guys just kept getting up off the ground and making tackles. It’s nothing too complicated, we just kept working hard.”
Lock Kane Douglas was in the thick of Australia’s defensive rearguard as Wales found themselves repeatedly denied. On three occasions, they went over the Wallabies’ line, but could not ground possession.
“It was tough,” Douglas said. “We had to dig deep – we had to do a few big scrums. It was pretty satisfying, eventually getting the ball out of our own end and getting the turnover. We were in a pretty tough position. I can’t put the nail on exactly what it was. I think ‘Cheikie’ [Australia head coach Michael Cheika] brings a pretty good culture, everyone has bought into it and it’s a really good feeling. It was just one job at a time, focus on the scrum.”
And wing Drew Mitchell said: “We have been working on those situations in training and we have the belief to get through those situations. It was a great moment for the group and a real tip of the hat for the guys out there.”
Australia’s win was in stark contrast to their record 33-13 triumph against England seven days previously. Whereas that performance proved to be an all-singing, all-dancing affair as they repeatedly shredded England’s defence, the Wales success was based on defensive power and mental strength.
Given the combination of both rugby styles, it is little wonder that Australia are now fancied by many to add another World Cup triumph to their portfolio following victories in 1991 and 1999.
No country has ever won the World Cup three times, but Australia have now given themselves potentially an easier route to the final, with Scotland on Sunday, then Ireland or Argentina in their way.
“It just shows the hard work we have put in over the last few months and the work that Michael Cheika has been doing since he joined,” Wallabies prop Sekope Kepu said. “There is belief and trust in the squad, and we are ready to dig deep for each other. It shows the character of the team – never taking a backward step.”
Wales’ defeat means Warren Gatland’s men will face South Africa in the quarter-finals on Saturday. But they will have to cope without Liam Williams after the team’s injury jinx continued. The Scarlets back limped off nursing a foot injury and it was confirmed yesterday that his tournament is over.