Wales survive Australia's second-half onslaught
MATCH REPORT: Six Nations champions Wales took a massive step towards topping Pool D with a thrilling 29-25 victory over valiant Australia on Sunday.
Replacement flyhalf Rhys Patchell knocked over a drop goal as Wales led 26-8 on 43 minutes, but Australia reduced the deficit to just one point before the Welsh squeaked home.
Wales, 43-14 winners over Georgia in their opener, will now be confident of finishing their pool unbeaten, with their next opponents Fiji in Oita on October 9 before taking on Uruguay in Kumamoto four days later.
An electric game full of enterprising, interlinking play from both sides on a balmy late afternoon in the Japanese capital made for a marvelous spectacle of running rugby.
The 47,885-strong crowd had barely taken their seats after the anthems when Wales were on the scoreboard.
The ubiquitous Aaron Wainwright turned over esteemed Wallaby jackler Michael Hooper from the kick-off, Gareth Davies finding Dan Biggar in the box for a straightforward drop-goal with just 37 seconds on the clock.
Biggar went wide on his first penalty attempt minutes later as Wales continued to attack with fluidity, George North being brought down with the line begging.
Biggar spurned a second shot at goal as Wales looked to build on their momentum.
The ball was quickly recycled from the attacking line-out, Biggar putting in an inch-perfect crosskick that Hadleigh Parkes gathered, the Kiwi-born centre outleaping Marika Koroibete and spinning past Dane Haylett-Petty to dot down in the corner.
The Welsh flyhalf hit the extras but saw a second, long-range drop-goal go wide.
Hooper escaped punishment for a late, high hit on Biggar, French referee Romain Poite deciding a penalty was sufficient.
Wales lost their throw-in from the kick, handing Australia the chance to fire back down the pitch, a Parkes tackle on opposite number Samu Kerevi preventing a sure try.
The Wallaby forwards arrived en masse, and with the Welsh defence scrambling, Bernard Foley crosskicked perfectly to veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper, the wing stepping inside Josh Adams with aplomb to scramble over for a deserved try.
Foley scuffed the conversion, but with both sides more than willing to throw the ball around, it didn’t seem to matter.
Biggar bundled Serevi into touch after the strapping Fiji-born centre had two-stepped around Jonathan Davies, but the flyhalf paid for that defensive showing by being subbed off with a head injury, replaced by Rhys Patchell.
Foley and Patchell traded penalties before Gareth Davies pounced to intercept a deep pass from a stuttering Will Genia to sprint home from 60 metres.
Patchell converted to make it 23-8 at half-time and dropped a goal four minutes into the second period as Wales looked to turn the screw.
Australia were far from done, however, David Pocock providing the perfect offload for Dane Haylett-Petty to score the Wallabies’ second try, Matt Toomua converting.
The Welsh defence, built around No 8 Josh Navidi and skipper Alun Wyn Jones, winning a Wales-record 130th cap, could only hold firm for so long as Australia proceeded to camp out in their 22m area with a series of set-pieces, Hooper eventually being driven for an invaluable try Toomua converted.
Games between the two sides are traditionally tight and so it again proved, Toomua hitting a 69th-minute penalty to reduce Wales’ lead to just one point.
Patchell responded in kind, Tomos Williams kept an Australian kick to touch in play and Wales saw out a tense final five minutes to set themselves up as likely Pool D winners.
Moment of the match: Dan Biggar’s drop goal after just 37 seconds.
Villian of the match: Referee Romain Poite made a few questionable decisions, one included Michael Hooper’s late tackle on Dan Biggar and his decision to penalised Samu Kerevi, for defending himself with a raised fist when charging forward with the ball into Rhys Patchell.
Man of the match: There were a lot of contenders in the Welsh camp, however for his two intercepts and overall performance (that outshined Will Genia) our nod goes to Wales scrumhalf Gareth Davies.
Tries: Ashley-Cooper, Haylett-Petty, Hooper
Cons: Toomua 2
Pen: Foley, Toomua
Tries: Parkes, G Davies
Cons: Biggar, Patchell
Pens: Patchell 3
Drop Goals: Biggar, Patchell
Australia: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 James O’Connor, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 David Pocock, 5 Rory Arnold, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 James Slipper, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 21 Nic White, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Kurtley Beale.
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Josh Navidi, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Aaron Shingler, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Owen Watkin.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Luke Pearce (England), Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)