Dan Biggar hit a late penalty to help Wales edge Australia 9-6 on Saturday and buck a 10-year, 13-match losing streak against the Wallabies.
Psychological one-upmanship was up for grabs in a dress rehearsal of what had been billed a pool-deciding match at next year’s Rugby World Cup. But neither side shone from an attacking point of view in what was a true defensive slugfest, albeit intense, at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium where there was little reward for all the hard-hitting hustle and bustle.
The score at half-time was locked at 3-3 thanks to one penalty apiece by Leigh Halfpenny and Bernard Foley, the misfiring Welsh full-back adding one more before going off injured.
Matt Toomua hit Australia’s second penalty late in the game before Biggar knocked over the winning score with two minutes to play to extend Wales’ winning streak to seven games — the best since the 2004/5 season.
“There’s some real momentum at the moment, that’s seven in a row,” said Wales coach Warren Gatland.
“From a defensive point of view we looked very comfortable.”
Australian counterpart Michael Cheika insisted his team would take the defeat “on the chin” ahead of games against Italy and England. With an eye on the World Cup in Japan, Cheika also stressed that Test rugby was all about the moment and not a “big game of dominoes”.
Wales dominated territory and possession in the opening 15 minutes, but the well-drilled Australian defence remained resolute in an indicator of what was to come.
Both sides seemed keen on running everything, but for all the earnest endeavour it was not the most entertaining spectacle.
The Australian set-piece started to look somewhat creaky as the half ticked on, and a deliberate wheel at scrum time gifted Halfpenny a second chance, the full-back making no mistake from the tee this time around.
Foley equalled the score in the 33rd minute after Dan Lydiate strayed offside in midfield.
An uncharacteristically off-target Halfpenny was left clutching his head when he missed his second penalty on the stroke of half-time after Wallaby hooker Tolu Latu played the ball off his feet at a ruck.
Halfpenny was at the heart of the action early in the second period, however, first with a smart chase and catch off fly-half Gareth Anscombe’s up-and-under and then latching onto George North’s clever tapdown from an Anscombe kick-pass.
Foley spurned a second kickable penalty in the 49th minute, but there was a knock-on from the ensuing attacking corner line-out. The Australian fly-half again opted for touch a few minutes later, but Latu overthrew and Wales rushed downfield.
Replacement hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau was then at fault, pinged for playing the ball on the floor and this time Halfpenny made no mistake to hand Wales the lead.
Toomua levelled the scores with seven minutes to play, but it was not over as Biggar stepped up after Ned Hanigan failed to roll away from a ruck to fire home the winning penalty.
© Agence France-Presse (additional edits from Chris Kelleher)