Wales finished the autumn internationals on a high note, although they made hard work of it against 14-man Australia at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.
Wayne Pivac had made seven changes to his starting XV that beat Fiji the week before as Wyn Jones and Tomas Francis returned to the front row, Seb Davies replaced the injured Will Rowlands at lock, Aaron Wainwright was fit again at number eight, Tomos Williams returned at scrum-half, Willis Halaholo got the nod in midfield and Josh Adams was fit to take his spot on the wing.
It was Australia who started the game the fastest though as the away side flew out of the blocks. Hunter Paisami got on the end of a Nic White chip kick before a Len Ikitau half-break and a huge Taniel Tupou carry took them right into the Welsh 22, and then with penalty advantage Paisami put another kick through for Andrew Kellaway to run on to and score, James O’Connor adding the extras.
The visitors let Wales straight back into the game though as obstruction from kick-off allowed Dan Biggar to put three points on the board, before 15 minutes in number eight Rob Valentini went upright into a tackle with Adam Beard and was shown a red card after TMO consultation.
Biggar kicked added another three points on the back of that but O’Connor quickly cancelled it out when Willis Halaholo was pinged for not releasing, however further Australian ill-discipline saw Kurtley Beale yellow carded for a deliberate knock on as Nick Tompkins tried to release Louis Rees-Zammit.
That finally brought Wales to life and from the resulting lineout in the corner a sharp front peel move saw Tomos Williams come around and draw the last defender to put Ryan Elias over in the corner, with Biggar adding the extras.
As Beale returned to the field the respective 10s traded penalties once more but although the men in red had two attacking lineouts to try and extend the lead before half-time, a sacked maul and then a stolen ball meant the scores stayed 16-13 as the two teams headed for the sheds.
Wales continued to push after the break, with Ellis Jenkins and Liam Williams both making line breaks, but it would be in defence where the next score finally appeared as Nick Tompkins managed to slap a Wallaby pass backwards and recover possession to run unopposed under the sticks, with Biggar converting.
Just as the home side were seemingly wrestling control of the game in their direction though, it flipped on it’s head. Gareth Thomas was shown a yellow card, that could well have been a red on another day, for a swinging arm ruck clean and then with the match back at 14 v 14 the Australians struck as Kurtley Beale made a line break with Ikitau linking play for Nic White to score, with O’Connor adding the extras.
Biggar was able to put three more points on the board but with 10 minutes to go the Wallabies got their noses in front when a Paisami break was followed up by good hands to put Filipo Daugunu over in the corner. O’Connor struck the post with the conversion but was on target with a penalty just after for a 26-28 lead.
However, Wales weren’t quite ready to roll over and as the bench was emptied and Thomas returned to the field the hosts finally put together their best lengthy attacking set of the game. Josh Adams and Liam Williams made half breaks before Gareth Davies took the men in red right up to the try line. The forwards could not quite force their way over but a penalty allowed Rhys Priestland to kick a winning penalty with the last play of the game.
Not a classic performance for Wayne Pivac’s side by any means, but getting on the right side of the scoresheet after falling to South Africa in similar circumstances will be an important confidence boost as the Six Nations always comes around quickly after the autumn.
There is no doubt that work-ons exist, particularly in terms of the set piece and getting the back line properly firing, but a test window hit by injuries to such experienced players has allowed a number of fringe and young players to get good game time and take on senior roles which will be important with the World Cup just two years away.