Australia 25-29 Wales: Talking points from the thriller in Tokyo
Pre-tournament favorites Wales lived up to their tag with a close fought win over two-time Rugby World Cup winners, Australia. This matchup was both sides’ toughest in the group stage and it was the Welsh who took the bragging rights in this one, winning their first World Cup game against the Aussies in 28 years.
The Welsh overcame a resilient Wallabies side to win 29-25 at the Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo.
Warren Gatland’s men, after giving a brilliant offensive performance in the first half, survived a Wallabies onslaught in the second to eke out a win.
It only took the Welsh 36 seconds to open the scoring. The Dragons outfoxed the Wallabies, setting up Dan Biggar for a quick drop goal to go 3-0 up.
13 minutes later, Gatland’s side scored the first try of the game. Biggar facilitated the try as Hadleigh Parkes caught his kicked ball to get the five points. Parks took advantage of some shoddy defending from Marika Koirobete who fluffed his lines while trying to intercept Biggar’s kicked pass.
The Wallabies responded in the 21st minute in emphatic fashion. Bernard Foley sent in a perfectly weighted kicked ball that was collected by Adam Ashley-Cooper. The Kolbeco Steelers wing evaded English defenders to score an all important to cut the deficit.
Michael Cheika’s side, however, was pinned down again after the 30th minute. Rhys Patchell, who replaced the concussed Biggar, converted two penalties to make the scoreline, 16-8 in Wales’ favor. In the 38th minute, Gareth Davies’s lung-bursting run broke Australia’s defensive line and the Welshman duly scored a try as the score read 23-8 in Wales’ favor at the end of the first half.
Where the first half was all Wales, the Wallabies dominated proceedings in the second.
Patchell scored a drop goal in the 44th minute. That would be the only noteworthy thing Wales would do with the ball until the 72nd minute as the Dragons were pinned to the wall by a resurgent Australia.
The Aussies scored 19 points in the second half, spearheaded by captain Michael Hooper and Matt To’omua.
Cheika’s men reduced the deficit to a point but Wales got back on track with a 72nd minute penalty. Australia’s efforts to push for a winning try were rebuffed by a stubborn Welsh defense that fought tooth and nail for the win.
Alun Wyn Jones and the Welsh defense stands tall
The Australians battered on the Welsh doors in the second half, looking to take away a win. If not for Alun Wyn Jones and other stalwarts like Parkes, Ken Owens and Justin Tipuric, the Wallabies would have got the win.
Gatland’s men did very well to hold off wave after wave of Australian attacks. Wyn Jones led by example, amassing a mammoth 23 tackles in the game, only missing three. In fact, eight Welshmen had tackle numbers in double figures during the game. All in all, the Welsh completed 153 of their 183 tackles in the game.
Wales’ strong defending was headlined by their massive showing near the five-meter mark from their own try zone. The Wallabies would have scored more against a lesser side but the Welsh defense deserves all the plaudits for holding onto the lead.
The Matt To’omua effect
The Wallabies transformed into a different beast with the introduction of To’omua.
The Aussie was the driving force behind his team in the second half, running hard and putting in a great shift. To’omua had 10 carries in the half, averaging 6.2 meters per carry. Most crucially, however, he kept the scoreboard ticking, converting Dane Haylett-Petty and Hooper’s tries and scoring off a penalty.
To’omua’s efforts might have ultimately been in vain but it was evident that the Wallabies looked better with his presence on the field.
An easy path to the final for Gatland and Wales?
As it stands, Wales are on the path to top Pool D.
If they do so, they contend with the runner-up of Pool C, which most likely will be France. If the Welsh continue their current form and focus, they do stand a higher chance of a win over Les Bleus.
Topping Pool D allows Gatland to avoid most likely Pool C toppers, England. A win in the QF over the runner up of Pool C, will result in Wales meeting, looking at the quality, South Africa.
The Springboks aren’t as strong as they were in previous years which is good news for Gatland. Looking at all of this, Wales making the final will not be a surprise.
For Cheika and Australia, a meeting with an in-form England seems inevitable.
Cover image credits: Reuters