Wales brought an end to a 10 year and 13 game winless streak against Australia with a narrow win at the Principality Stadium to make it two-from-two this Autumn.
After last week’s win over Scotland Warren Gatland made three changes to his starting XV, with Tomas Francis, Adam Beard and Josh Adams replacing Dillon Lewis, Cory Hill and Luke Morgan, while Ellis Jenkins, Dan Biggar and Liam Williams came onto the bench.
It was a man who had retained his place in the side who made the first big play though, as Australia started the game on the front foot and Samu Kerevi headed towards the try line down the left wing only for Gareth Anscombe to make a superb last ditch tackle and knock the ball out of his hands.
The Wallabies kept up the pressure but a superb Leigh Halfpenny high ball claim put out a dangerous looking fire before a Nicky Smith turnover gave us attacking ball for the first time. Unfortunately an Anscombe cross field kick could not quite connect with Josh Adams.
Another multi-phase attack was seen off by some strong Australian defence, although it seemed like Halfpenny would get Wales off the mark but an uncharacteristic goal kick miss kept the game scoreless.
Following that the match sunk into 10 minutes of play far below the quality you’d expect from two of the best rugby playing nations in the World, particularly in the lineout where both teams struggled to secure their own ball, while ball security in phase play was an issue.
One area where Wales could get the upper hand was at the scrum though, and a penalty win just inside the Wallabies half did allow Halfpenny to earn three points with 21 minutes showing on the clock.
Australia tried to hit back straight away with a 15-phase attack, but Wales stood strong only to see possession given away cheaply in midfield through more poor lineouts and a chip through from Jon Davies this time that once again just evaded Adams.
In the end it took until the 32nd minute for Bernard Foley to get the visitors on the board with a penalty, and although it seemed like Halfpenny would nudge the Welsh back in front on the stroke of half-time, a second miss sent the teams in with the score 3-3 at the break.
The first 10 minutes followed the pattern of the first half, as Wales’ defensive line held strong for long defensive sets, while dangerous looking half-breaks from Leigh Halfpenny and Josh Adams were put out with held from the omnipresent David Pocock.
Wales tried to invite pressure on themselves by conceding penalties in midfield, but an overthrown lineout and some superb Alun Wyn Jones maul defence kept the Wallabies at bay, although the hosts themselves continued to make handling errors and were generally unable to manufacture a clear line break in attack.
In fairness to Warren Gatland’s men though they kept knocking on the door and eventually referee Ben O’Keefe awarded a penalty in front of the posts for Halfpenny to make amends from his first half misses.
As the game enters the final 10 minutes the drama intensifies as Samu Kerevi catches Halfpenny late when the latter makes a clearance kick. He was going for the charge down, but ended up ploughing his shoulder into the full-back’s head.
The Welsh kicker goes off for a HIA, ending his game, while to make matters worse on the return kick Anscombe had been wrapped up and Pocock awarded the penalty over the ball. Matt Toomua called for the tee and the score was suddenly tied once again at 6-6.
However, while the game itself had largely been a fast moving object meeting an immovable force, the latter stages of the game were more back and forth, and as Wales attacked it was Dillon Lewis who had the awareness to pin Ned Hanigan in a breakdown and win a penalty from the referee.
Dan Biggar, on for the injured Halfpenny, stepped up and slotted the ball between the uprights with three minutes left.
Even with such little time on the clock the was still two opportunities for Australia as Wales failed to manage the game on two occasions, but an overthrown lineout and then a penalty conceded for a tackle off the ball sealed their fate and for the first time since 2008 they fell to the men in red.
For Wales that continues a winning streak that now numbers seven straight matches, and is a huge psychological boost ahead of facing the Wallabies in the Rugby World Cup pool stages out in Japan next September.
Attention now switches to Tonga next week, with Warren Gatland expected to make a number of changes, but with a run of victories to continue, the expectations are no less.