What a cruel way to lose a Test and end a season. Australia, down a man from the 15th minute after a red card to Rob Valetini, led Wales with 90 seconds left after a Kurtley Beale penalty, but lost 29-28 after the siren.
As courageous and impressive as the Wallabies were to stay in the game, amid some bizarre refereeing decisions by Mike Adamson, a third loss from as many games on the European tour has taken the gloss off a promising domestic campaign.
Dave Rennie’s team played 14 times this season, winning seven and losing seven. Two of those wins came against South Africa and two against France but three losses to New Zealand, and defeats to England, Scotland and Wales will hurt.
Rennie, so often a peacemaker in reaction to refereeing decisions, was in no mood to cop it on the chin, angered by two events in particular. Kurtley Beale was sin binned for an intercept gone wrong while a similar Welsh attempt ended in a try.
“I thought some of the decision making tonight by the officials was horrendous,” Rennie said.
“It played a big part in the result. Kurtley Beale got sin binned for slapping the ball down. They did the same thng and it clearly goes forward and they get seven points out of it.
“Obviously really disappointed by the result. We’ll end up getting an apology next week no doubt but it won’t help the result.”
Australia got off to a flyer with two minutes gone before Kellaway crossed for the ninth try of a breakout first season in Wallaby gold.
After Taniela Tupou, restored to the team following his concussion against Scotland, did some impressive grunt work, Hunter Paisami slipped in a cute kick behind the Welsh defence. The ball sat up nicely for Kellaway to cross.
Wales had cut the gap to 7-3 in the eighth minute but with 15 gone, Valetini charged out of the defensive line and his head smashed into that of rival Adam Beard, drawing blood.
Adamson’s decision was never in doubt.
“He’s come from distance, he’s come at speed, there’s a high level of danger and a high degree of play,” said the referee, deeming there was no mitigation for the dangerous play.
While former Wallaby Drew Mitchell was aghast at the decision, and several more that followed, his Stan Sport co-commentator Morgan Turinui thought it was a clear red..
“It’s a shame it’s not 15 on 15 for what was truthfully a clear red card in the modern way that the laws are intrepreted,” Turinui said.
“It was reckless with a clear lack of technique from Rob Valetini.”
???? Valetini sees red
— RUGBYcomau (@rugbycomau) November 20, 2021
Valetini needed to get lower in his tackle, and was apologetic to his stricken rival as he made his way off the field.
Rennie said he had no issue with the red card.
But it was a different story 14 men became 13 within seven minutes when Beale headed to the sin bin, having been ruled to deliberately knocked on to stop a Welsh raid.
The hosts scored, against what Andrew Mehrtens described as “the Australian rugby league team”, on the next play as Ryan Ellis crossed after a lineout.
O’Connor kicked the Wallabies level before Dan Biggar gave Wales a 16-13 lead into the sheds.
Australia lost Tupou and hooker Tolu Latu to injury within minutes of the restart and then conceded a bizarre try that even left the scorer, Nick Tompkins, shaking his head in disbelief.
???? Try awarded
— RUGBYcomau (@rugbycomau) November 20, 2021
Tompkins went for an intercept from a Tom Wright pass and the ball went straight to ground. He grabbed the bounce and ran away to the try line while the Wallabies stopped, expecting a whistle for a knock on.
That never came, and the TMO backed the ref. Tompkins shook his head wrly when the try was confirmed, and Mitchell said “the referee has had a howler.”
“It makes a mockery of it,” said Mehrtens. “You saw Nick Tompkins’ reaction – he knows it’s just crazy.”
Welsh coach Wayne Pivac was adamant it was a fair try.
“I didn’t think it was a knock on personally, nor did the referee, the TMO or the touch judges,” Pivac said. “We were quite pleased with that call. It just shows in a game you can’t switch off and stop, you’ve got to play to the whistle and you tell that to five year olds.
“Pressure builds yellow cards and we’re good enough to create pressure against sides.”
With 58 minutes gone the Wallabies got on even footing as Gareth Thomas was sin binned for a swinming arm on Allan Alaalatoa, and the Wallabies took quick advantage of parity with one of their best tries this year.
Alaalatoa and Pete Samu set the plaform and Beale had an electric impact, a brilliant step cutting open the Welsh defence. His pace to Len Ikitau was sent onto Nic White who was able to crwal over between the posts after being cut down just short of the line.
Against the odds the Australians had cut the margin to just three points, but Biggar knocked over a penalty soon after to push it out to six.
The Wallabies kept coming and with 10 minutes left Paisami, with his final involvement, made a surging run deep inside Wales’ 22. From a subsequent phase Filipo Daugunu, back in the side after breaking his arm against France in July, took a pass from Wright to dive over in the left corner.
O’Connor lined his conversion up three metres in from the touch line and it agonisingly swung back late to bang off the post.
Australia got another chance to take a lead and Beale nailed it after Will Skelton forced a penalty just inside the Welsh half.
But the hosts fought back. They were under the Austrlaian posts, on phase 19 when Adamson found a penalty and Rhys Preistland was nerveless.
James Slipper, who was standing in as Wallabies captain for injured Michael Hooper, said the red card put the team under too much pressure.
“Playing the game predominately with 14 then a 10 minute period with 13 – in Test matches you just can’t win when you put yourselves under that sort of pressurem” said Slipper.
“We put ourselves in a position to win that game, we showed a lot of character to fight tooth and nail with a man down. I couldn’t be prouder of the boys.
“It’s been a long year for us, most of us have been on the road since June. The boys will be pretty happy to get home and see their young ones.”