AUCKLAND, NZ – In an ironic twist of fate, it was the difference of a drop-goal that earned Australia the Bronze medal at the Rugby World Cup in front of 53,013 spectators at Eden Park on Friday, as the Wallabies beat Wales 21-18 for the title. In the inaugural 1987 World Cup, also on New Zealand soil, Paul Thorburn’s last minute conversion won third place for the Welsh against Australia.
“We were not as quite emotionally up for it as we have been for other games and I think that showed. Our performance was probably a little bit down than what we are capable of.” – said Wales head coach New Zealander Warren Gatland. – ‘We are disappointed but we have to take a lot of positives from the way we have progressed as a team.”
After reshuffling their front row due to injuries and losing their captain, 23-year-old flanker Sam Warburton to a judiciary decision of three weeks suspension after what was ruled as a tip tackle to French wing Vincent Clerc at the semi-finals, the Welsh team was drained to take on the task of beating a reenergized Wallabies side.
The first half saw Australia lead 7-3 with an early 12th minute try from inside centre Berrick Barnes, converted by James O’Connor playing on the wing, and Welsh fly half James Hook’s penalty kick in the 20th. New Zealand’s public enemy number one Wallabies convert fly half Quade Cooper was forced off the field in the 22nd minute, after a serious knee injury suspect to be a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament, receiving applause from the local audience, probably for the first time in the tournament.
“With Quade coming off early, tonight was a good opportunity for me to step up to that ball playing role.” – said O’Connor. “We started the first 20 minutes attacking the Wales team. It was a massive effort, but unfortunately we lost our major ball players.”
Welsh wing Shane Williams placed a try in the far corner in the 49th minute, which Hook failed to convert, quickly substituted for Stephen Jones a minute later. O’Connor placed two more penalties in the 54th and 58th minutes and Barnes executed a drop goal in the 68th. Jones placed his own penalty three minutes later. After constant pressure, Wallabies # 8 Ben McCalman placed a try in the 76th minute, breaking through Welsh defense in the far left corner. O’Connor missed the conversion.
The Welsh showed brilliant regrouping in injury time, and finished the game with fullback Leigh Halfpenny’s try after a 31-phase attack, and Jones’ conversion. However, three-points short, it was the Australians who took home the bronze medal at the end, reversing the outcome of the same game 24 years ago.
“In terms of playing, it was tough. We were definitely up for this game, though.” – said Barnes. “With it being Sharpey’s (lock Nathan Sharpe) 100th (test), we wanted to bring it home.”
*Photos thanks to Aki Nagao