A nail-biting finish was only one of the key moments in a highly entertaining 25-19 win for Australia over Wales in the first match of the final round of WXV 1.
The action ended with a goal line stand by the Wallaroos as Wales fly-half Lleucu George had kicked a stunning 50/22, however the Australian defence muscled up to preserve their lead as the full-time whistle went.
After a wet day in Auckland the weather had turned fine by kick-off at Go Media Mt Smart Stadium. Wales donned black armbands in tribute to friend and colleague, Karen Oatley, who was known as the team’s biggest supporter and confidant.
The Wallaroos had the better of the early running sending passes wide to Ivania Wong, who got on the outside twice but was well tackled by Jasmine Joyce both times.
But it was the other side of the field where the first points came. A strong run by Sera Naiqama saw the Wallaroos surge into the Welsh 22, then a neat bit of footwork by Carys Dallinger saw space open up wide for Maya Stewart. The wing crossed with her first touch after returning from an injury sustained in the opening match against England.
Wales struck back with a try almost immediately, sending a series of well organised pods of forward runners into the 22. Although they were stopped short of the line, the efforts were rewarded with a penalty that they bravely chose to kick to the corner. It paid off with the resulting drive seeing Carys Phillips score her second try of the tournament. Keira Bevan nailed the sideline conversion to give Wales the lead.
That didn’t last long though, as Dallinger knocked over an easy penalty of her own after half an hour to make the score 8-7. Australia almost scored a lineout drive try of their own after another visit to the 22 but were penalised for obstruction just as the half-time hooter sounded.
The second half started in dramatic fashion, with Wallaroos lock Siokapesi Palu shown a red card by referee Hollie Davidson for a dangerous tackle on Joyce. Wales then set up camp in the Australian 22, sending another series of drives at the line. It resulted in a penalty try and Naiqama getting a yellow card, reducing the Wallaroos to 13 players.
However, the situation saw the Australians step up a gear, charging up the middle of middle of the park and winning a penalty that was kicked to the corner. After a strong drive, Eva Karpani peeled off the back and crashed over for her fourth try in two games. Dallinger’s conversion attempt drifted wide, making the score 14-13 and setting up a tense final half hour.
Australia threatened again after a lovely run by Stewart, but a fantastic bit of defensive work by Georgia Evans to secure a turnover stopped the attack in its tracks.
However, Wales couldn’t hold out forever. Some more quick hands from the Wallaroos saw Wong make a break into the 22, two rucks later Dallinger spotted a huge amount of space in the corner and sent a well-weighted kick into the in-goal. After a scramble, Lori Cramer dived on the ball to put the Wallaroos in the lead. Dallinger sent the conversion through with an excellent kick from out wide out.
The Australians, playing to protect their undefeated record against Wales, knew they’d need to tack some more insurance on and kept attacking. Another slick move out wide saw Wong well rewarded with a try, giving the Wallaroos a 25-14 advantage with seven minutes to play.
Wales weren’t done, going back to their strength area to send Kelsey Jones over for another lineout drive try to make the score 25-19. George followed it up with her 50/22, but the drive couldn’t be repeated. Australia finish the tournament with two wins from three, and winning a lot of admirers for their brave play.