Australia 25-29 Wales Gatland’s men record historic triumph

The bogey has been banished, and Wales’ first win over one of the southern-hemisphere big guns since the inaugural tournament in 1987 has Alun Wyn Jones’s side freewheeling in great heart towards their preferred route through the knockout stages.
Owen Watkin, right, celebrates Wales' win with  Jonathan Davies.Owen Watkin, right, celebrates Wales' win with  Jonathan Davies.
Owen Watkin, right, celebrates Wales' win with Jonathan Davies.

It looked in the second half of a predictably gripping match in Tokyo as if Australia would pull off the Harry Houdini impression they have inflicted on Wales so many times in the last decade.

Instead Wales held on and now sit on top of Pool D, destined to meet the runners-up from the group involving England, France and Argentina in the quarters, which leads on to a semi-final against the victors of a probable last-eight tie between South Africa and Japan or Ireland. There is no mention of New Zealand there, you will notice, and Warren Gatland, the Wales coach, pictured, has already said it would suit him if that little set-to could wait until the final. Australia, you’ll gather, are now heading for a possible quarter with England – and when the watching Eddie Jones’s face popped up on the big screen here, he was roundly booed by thousands of supporters wearing Wallaby gold jerseys.

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Australia were not happy with Romain Poite’s refereeing, not happy at all. Michael Hooper, the voluble Wallaby captain, had a prolonged whinge at the Frenchman for giving a penalty and three points to Rhys Patchell after the replacement Wales stand-off ran headlong into Samu Kerevi and was fended off by the left forearm of the Aussie who is a very dangerous runner in open play. Hooper played into the us-against- the-world narrative already established by coach Michael Cheika over the midweek suspension of wing Reece Hodge, as the skipper called out Patchell for “terrible tackle technique” and asked “can we not run into the tackle any more?” Poite, a former police detective in Toulouse, patiently laid out his evidence that in rugby law, a hand-off must be with the hand,but the grey areas over fault in these high-speed collisions aren’t going away any time soon. And Poite also angered the Aussies with his handling of the scrums.

The opening quarter brought a cross-kick try to each side – Dan Biggar, who had already drop-goaled his side into an early lead, successfully found Hadleigh Parkes jumping above Marika Koroibete on Wales’ right wing in the 13th minute, and Parkes, presumably forgetting any pain from the small fracture in his strapped-up right hand, dotted down; then Bernard Foley did likewise to Adam Ashley-Cooper for the veteran’s 39th Test try eight minutes later.

By half-time, though, Wales were 23-8 up thanks to scrum-half Gareth Davies picking off his opposite number, Will Genia, with an interception at a ruck on the Welsh 10m line. By then, Patchell was on for Biggar, who had failed a head injury assessment after a brave, try-scoring tackle on Kerevi.

Drop goals could be coming back into fashion. Patchell skewed over another for Wales three minutes into the second half and it was 26-8.

Then the Wallabies woke up. A try for Dane Haylett-Petty was quickly followed by another for Hooper after a long series of penalties and line-outs in the Wales 22, and with two conversions and a penalty by Matt Toomua, on for Foley, Wales’ lead of 18 points was down to one.

Imagine the relief among the Welsh supporters when, on 71 minutes, Patchell knocked over a 25m penalty for a line-out offence. Still it needed a great escape after Wales conceded a penalty at a 76th-minute scrum – Josh Navidi does not look comfortable at the base, and Ross Moriarty may be a better bet there. The dreaded comeback was averted by a stunning bit of gymnastics from Tomos Williams as the substitute scrum-half leapt way beyond the touchline to keep the Wallabies’ kick for a line-out in play.

The 12th Welsh turnover of the match with 30 seconds left locked them into control of the pool. And while Gatland promised afterwards not to take wins over Fiji in Oita on 9 October and Uruguay in Kumamoto four days later for granted, any other outcome would be a huge shock now.