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The Wallabies scored a hard-fought 21-18 win over Wales in the Rugby World Cup third-place playoff match in Auckland on Friday night as some consolation after a misfiring tournament.

Tries in the 10th minute from inside centre Berrick Barnes and 76th minute to No.8 Ben McCalman bookended another lacklustre performance by Australia, with James O’Connor adding three penalties and a conversion to seal the victory and with it the bronze medal.

The Wallabies showed intent to play an expansive game early on, but when fullback Kurtley Beale and five-eighth Quade Cooper left the field through injury in the first 25 minutes, Australia adopted a more conservative approach.

Beale exited after just nine minutes with a recurrence of a hamstring injury that has blighted his tournament, but just a minute later, Cooper’s flat ball close to the Welsh line sent Barnes under the posts untouched.

Wales five-eighth James Hook kicked a penalty in the 20th minute to reduce the deficit to 7-3, but moments later, Australia’s injury curse struck again when Cooper – who started the match in a more effervescent mood – attempted an elaborate right-foot step that left him lying on the ground in agony with a suspected cruciate ligament tear.

Both sides missed penalty attempts before the break, with poor handling and wayward passing making for a below-par spectacle and the teams headed for the sheds with the Wallabies leading 7-3.

Wallabies second-rower Nathan Sharpe, who led the side out in his 100th Test match, left the field in the 46th minute after falling awkwardly on his right knee in the fourth minute and was replaced by Rod Simmons.

Sharpe’s departure sparked a Welsh fightback, with referee Wayne Barnes missing a glaring forward pass from Hook after a turnover on halfway.

Opportunistic Welsh winger Shane Williams pounced, skilfully toeing the ball through to score near the left touchline and in the process putting his side in front 8-7.

However, a 42-metre penalty from O’Connor in the 51st minute put the Wallabies back in front and when the winger landed another just five minutes later, the Wallabies had built a handy 13-8 advantage.

In the 68th minute, Barnes – who excelled at five-eighth after Cooper’s injury – booted a field goal which sailed high in the air and just scrapped over the crossbar to put the Wallabies out by more than a converted try.

Wales edged closer a minute later when James Hook’s replacement, retiring veteran Stephen Jones, kicked an easy penalty to set up a tense finale.

However, McCalman put the game out of reach of the Welsh, grabbing his five-pointer with an untouched 10-metre run after some good lead-up work from prop James Slipper and replacement hooker Saia Faingaa.

Wales retained possession for 25-plus phases in the closing minutes that was rewarded when fullback Leigh Halfpenny crossed for an extra-time try which was converted by Jones.

Australia’s win was their first at Eden Park since 1986 and meant the two-time champions claimed their first bronze at the World Cup after losing 22-21 to Wales in the playoff for third place at the inaugural 1987 tournament, also played in New Zealand.

Cooper’s injury ended a forgettable tournament for the Kiwi-born playmaker and he looks certain to miss Australia’s tour of the United Kingdom that will feature games against Wales and the Barbarians.

Relive the game as it unfolded on our live blog.

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The Crowd Says (98)

  • October 21st 2011 @ 8:55pm
    capital said | October 21st 2011 @ 8:55pm | ! Report

    And when the tournament is lost Barnes gets a game n the run on side …
    And deservedly wins man of the match, not that the Tahs supporters wouldn’t have seen some similarities with the kick the ball away attitude, but a Cooper Barnes combination would have been our strongest.
    Well done Sharpie.
    And bad luck to the injured players, including Quade – another shame after a good year.

    • October 22nd 2011 @ 4:23am
      Parisien said | October 22nd 2011 @ 4:23am | ! Report

      The game confirmed what a fool Deans was to not use Barnes, Sharpe and Higginbotham in the semi-final. Great shame about the injuries.

  • October 21st 2011 @ 9:06pm
    Red Kev said | October 21st 2011 @ 9:06pm | ! Report

    Higginbotham too, the other player (along with Barnes) who has been royally screwed by Robbie Deans’ inexplicable selections played an immense game. Certainly better than anything Elsom showed this year (although still well short of the performances Kaino has been putting in which is what the Wallabies really need from Higginbotham).

    • October 21st 2011 @ 9:11pm
      capital said | October 21st 2011 @ 9:11pm | ! Report

      Have to say Red Kev,
      It was good to see Elsom supporting Cooper in the sheds at half time, and Samo helping him at the ceremony.
      A very disappointing end to the season for Cooper particularly and Beale.

      Agree on Elsom, he has struggled to influence matches, his running has been pretty poor and has been found wanting in defence.

      Like a number of players, he managed to show glimpses of form in the lead up to RWC; but couldn’t perform consistently. Probably the tale of our RWC this year …

    • October 21st 2011 @ 9:12pm
      Justin said | October 21st 2011 @ 9:12pm | ! Report

      It was a start RK. Higgers was very industrious and yes better than Rocky has been. Needs to keep moving up in the defensive line though, saw him on his heels on occasion waiting, particularly when wider out.

      I wish McCalman was 10kgs heavier, he is as hard at it as anyone out there but just lacks the size to make a dent.

      • October 22nd 2011 @ 6:18am
        Red Kev said | October 22nd 2011 @ 6:18am | ! Report

        I agree Justin, I was watching Higgers pretty intensely and I have to say there were 2×10 min periods where he seemed to go missing, he was too wide out in the defensive or attacking lineup. He had 60 good minutes though. If McKenzie and Deans can pound it into his head that he has to go hard for the full 80 he’ll be a very good 6.
        Good call on McCalman too. Palu can’t stay fit and McCalman just can’t seem to make that impact. Ita Vaea may be the only hope at no 8 for the Wallabies (or converting Higginbotham into a Pierre Spies type).

        As for Elsom, I have plenty of respect for the man (I didn’t like him as captain but I do like his personality – at least from what can be garnered from the press and his book), he just hasn’t been up to it this year and I think that Deans and the ARU didn’t do him any favours by rushing him straight back to the test side from injury (I almost wish he’d’ve told them “no I need to be worked back slower” but that’s a pretty hard conversation to have).

  • October 21st 2011 @ 9:10pm
    Tui said | October 21st 2011 @ 9:10pm | ! Report

    I agree Elsom has been a passenger for the Wallabies all year. Wallabies were great tonight well done to them.

  • October 21st 2011 @ 9:14pm
    Rugby Reg said | October 21st 2011 @ 9:14pm | ! Report

    Thanks wallabies, a distant second in the world is what we are afterall.
    Congratulations to the AB’s
    you will be deservably crowned world champs on sunday

  • October 21st 2011 @ 9:14pm
    Justin said | October 21st 2011 @ 9:14pm | ! Report

    Shattered for QC – next year was a big opportunity for him to mature after an extremely tough WC campaign. I hope it is not as bad as first thought and he gets some football next year. Perhaps the injury will have him slow down a fraction and gain some more control.

    Look forward to the return of QC ASAP

    • October 21st 2011 @ 9:30pm
      capital said | October 21st 2011 @ 9:30pm | ! Report

      Agree, a shame for him and the Reds

    • October 21st 2011 @ 9:53pm
      Sprigs said | October 21st 2011 @ 9:53pm | ! Report

      He was looking really good too.

    • October 21st 2011 @ 10:10pm
      jeremy said | October 21st 2011 @ 10:10pm | ! Report

      Have they said what it was? When he went down I thought ‘sh!t, that’s his ACL’ but then the commentators said he’d popped something in his knee?

  • Roar Guru

    October 21st 2011 @ 9:19pm
    Jiggles said | October 21st 2011 @ 9:19pm | ! Report

    There goes the Reds title defence.

    • October 21st 2011 @ 9:33pm
      Harry said | October 21st 2011 @ 9:33pm | ! Report

      Crying into my bundy. Utterly gutted. Absolute disaster if the QC injury is as bad as they make out.
      Well done Barnes for steering the ship home, could have easily gone pear shaped this evening.

      • Roar Guru

        October 21st 2011 @ 9:45pm
        Jiggles said | October 21st 2011 @ 9:45pm | ! Report

        Barnes just isn’t the 5-8 Cooper is. He was so deep in the pocket tonight it put our backs under a heap of pressure. He never attacked the line with ball in hand off a set piece.

    • Roar Guru

      October 21st 2011 @ 9:43pm
      Cattledog said | October 21st 2011 @ 9:43pm | ! Report

      That’s very negative, Jiggles. If you remember, Ewen seems to pull a rabbit out of his hat come injury time. I can’t see 2012 being any different. One players misfortune is another player’s opportunity. Keep the faith, mate.

      • Roar Guru

        October 21st 2011 @ 9:47pm
        Jiggles said | October 21st 2011 @ 9:47pm | ! Report

        Very true, hopefully Ben Lucas will finally get his chance at 5-8.

        • Roar Guru

          October 21st 2011 @ 9:52pm
          Cattledog said | October 21st 2011 @ 9:52pm | ! Report

          One of the best centres running around at the moment is Benny Tapuai. He can also slot into first five at a pinch. However, Ben Lucas I think will prove a good option, but just wait and see what talent turns up next season…

          • October 21st 2011 @ 9:57pm
            Kuruki said | October 21st 2011 @ 9:57pm | ! Report

            Is Mike Harris still with the Red’s?? I would throw him in at 10.

            • October 21st 2011 @ 10:17pm
              AJ said | October 21st 2011 @ 10:17pm | ! Report

              Yep Mike Harris is the man K.McKenzie will probably also dig another 10 from somewhere,he’d be on the phone now.

            • Roar Guru

              October 21st 2011 @ 10:20pm
              Jiggles said | October 21st 2011 @ 10:20pm | ! Report

              If Hynes isn’t fit I think Harris will be playing fullback next year.

            • October 21st 2011 @ 11:02pm
              Sprigs said | October 21st 2011 @ 11:02pm | ! Report

              Yes, Kuruki.

              Thanks for reminding me in this hour of grief over the injury to the brilliant Quade.

              I watched Mike here in Brisbane and thought. “How come NZ let this guy go?”

              He shows signs that he will be a brilliant player for the Reds –what a potential star we have in our midst.

          • Roar Guru

            October 21st 2011 @ 10:18pm
            Jiggles said | October 21st 2011 @ 10:18pm | ! Report

            Ben Taps is a pure 12 for me. one of the biggest sins of Australian rugby is that we try to have to many ‘versatile’ backline players. Taps needs to stay at 12 and hopefully he and JOC can push hard for that position at national level.

            • October 21st 2011 @ 10:33pm
              Handles O'Love said | October 21st 2011 @ 10:33pm | ! Report

              I thought Johno Lance was fantastic at the end of the season. I reckon centres out of Harris/Tapuai/Fainga’a, Lucas to 10, Lance at the back. Digby and Morahan on the wings. Forwards will need to be good though.

            • October 21st 2011 @ 10:39pm
              Moreton Bait said | October 21st 2011 @ 10:39pm | ! Report

              Don’t forget Jono Lance. He had some impressive cameos in his first season. So Lucas, Harris and Lance would be in the mix at 5/8 & fullback, I’d reckon. I think Ewen has a few surprises in store, too….

            • Roar Guru

              October 21st 2011 @ 10:48pm
              Jiggles said | October 21st 2011 @ 10:48pm | ! Report

              Lance has been good, but I think if Hynes is fit he will get first shot back at 15. I would rather Taps at 12 than either Harris or Faingaa.

            • October 21st 2011 @ 11:03pm
              Sprigs said | October 21st 2011 @ 11:03pm | ! Report

              Taps is good too…for sure.

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