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Quade Cooper has put in stunning performance in his 50th Test as the Qantas Wallabies finished the year on a high notching up a hard fought 30-26 victory over Wales in a pulsating Test in Cardiff early Sunday morning (AEDT).
The win meant the Wallabies finished their Spring Tour with four wins out of five Tests – defeating Italy, Ireland, Scotland and Wales – with only a narrow loss to England in their first match blotting their record.
More impressive was that a definite new style of play was clearly taking shape on the tour and if the Wallabies continue on this trajectory they can certainly challenge for Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship honours next season.
The game got off to an exhilarating start with the Wallabies throwing themselves onto attack and Israel Folau cutting through the Welsh defence.
But just when it looked like the Wallabies would score the ball was turned over at a ruck on the Welsh 22 and Wales counter attacked.
The ball came wide to George North who kicked ahead. There were plenty of Wallabies covering back but an unlucky bounce saw the ball rebound off Adam Ashley-Cooper’s leg and dribble over the tryline where a grateful North collected it to dive over for the opening try after just two minutes.
Leigh Halfpenny converted from the touchline and Wales led 7-0 after a breathless start.
The Wallabies however stuck to their game plan of quick ball movement, moving Wales around, and Will Genia went close soon after grubbering for the corner but the ball just hit the corner post before he could re-gather.
James Horwill was penalized on 10 minutes for playing Welsh No.8 Toby Faletau without the ball at the lineout and Halfpenny made no mistake with his penalty from 35 metres out putting the Red Dragons out to a 10-0 lead.
But Australia were back to 10-3 a minute later when Welsh hooker Richard Hibbard was penalized for going off his feet at the ruck and Christian Leali’ifano slotted over the penalty from right in front.
Another penalty against Horwill for offside gave Halfpenny a chance to increase the lead, and the diminutive fullback made no mistake from the half way line to put Wales up 13-3 after 18 minutes.
But the Wallabies crossed for a superb try just a minute later.
A good tackle from Sekope Kepu on Hibbard allowed Michael Hooper to rip the ball free and he got the ball away quickly to Genia who found flyhalf Cooper running across field.
Cooper then passed to Ashley-Cooper and ran around to take the ball again before flicking a brilliant back flick to Joe Tomane on the right wing who found Leali’ifano backing up on the inside, and the Brumbies centre went over for a memorable try.
Leali’ifano converted from out near the right touchline to bring it back to 13-10.
Wales could have gone further ahead on 25 minutes when Rob Simmons was penalized for not rolling away after a Halfpenny break, but this time the usually accurate Halfpenny struck the upright.
Ben Mowen was penalized for coming around the side of the ruck on 27 minutes and Wales set up a lineout in the Australian 22. But Scott Fardy brilliantly won a penalty to nullify the opportunity for Wales.
A penalty to Wales flyhalf Dan Biggar after 30 minutes made it 16-10.
Australia were almost in for their second try after 33 minutes when Cooper made a break down the right and found Tomane with another superb flick.
Tomane broke down the touchline and he only needed to find Genia, who was backing up on the inside, for Australia to be over but the pass went to ground and the chance was loss.
And Folau was almost over two minutes later but was stopped by a foul from Biggar who was sent to the sin bin.
Australia decided to attack rather than take the penalty attempt and despite some huge tackles from Wales, Australia stay composed and a long pass from Genia found Folau outwide, and the NSW fullback fought his way over for a try.
Leali’ifano converted superbly from out wide and Australia were in the lead 17-16 at half time. It had been a breathless first half of Rugby without a single scrum being set.
The game re-commenced with the same breakneck intensity and a stunning run from Nick Cummins from a kick return almost saw him scorch through to score but he was pulled down just short.
However the Wallabies were awarded a penalty and Leali’ifano increased the lead to 20-16.
Australia attacked again soon after and Cooper made a half break and then the ball came to Nick Cummins who was again stopped just short. But the ball came loose in the first handling mistake of the game and a scrum was packed after a full 45 minutes.
The Wallabies continued to attack, moving the ball quickly from side to side, which has become Australia’s style under Ewen McKenzie, and finally Tomane swooped brilliantly to pick up a low pass from Folau and dive over out wide.
Leali’ifano continued his pinpoint goalkicking. Landing the conversion from the corner post to put Australia out to a 27-16 lead.
It was 30 -16 on 53 minutes after another sweetly struck penalty to Leali’ifano, bringing his points tally in the match to 20 points.
Ben Alexander came on for Kepu on 55 minutes and Wales went close though a run by replacement Liam Williams but great defence from the Wallabies held them out and Fardy won another relieving penalty.
North stepped through to score a stunning solo try, converted by Biggar, to bring it back to 30-23 with 20 minutes remaining as Kane Douglas came on for Horwill, Mike Harris for Leali’ifano and Benn Robinson for the hardworking James Slipper.
Mowen was penalized for hands in the ruck with 13 minutes remaining and Wales brought it back to 30-26 through a penalty to substitute Rhys Priestland.
Genia pinned Wales in their 22 with a clever kick as Tatafu Polota-Nau came on for hooker Stephen Moore, who had put in another standout performance, and Dave Dennis relieved Mowen.
Cooper tried to make it safe with a late drop goal attempt but the kick skewed to the left.
As the game crept into the final ten minutes Australia played a territory game but a penalty gave Wales a chance to attack.
The Red Dragons charged into the Australia 22 and Cooper was sin binned for an early tackle. Wales set up the lineout to deliver the killer blow but a knock on gave Australia the chance to clear.
Bernard Foley came on for the impressive Tomane as McKenzie looked to refresh his tiring troops.
Despite being at the end of a long tour at the end of an even longer season Australia strongly played out the final minutes to win the Test.
A late penalty gave Wales one final chance to attack from deep but the Wallabies defence held firm and Australia had recorded a great Test victory 30-26 and retained the James Bevan trophy.
JAMES BEVAN TROPHY
Qantas Wallabies 30 (Christian Leali’ifano, Israel Folau, Joe Tomane tries; Leali’ifano 3 penalties, 3 conversions) defeated Wales 26 (George North 2 tries; Leigh Halfpenny, Dan Biggar conversions; Rhys Priestland, Halfpenny, Biggar penalties) at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. (Half time: Australia 17 Wales 16) (Referee: Wayne Barnes [England])