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Substitute scrum-half Tomos Williams celebrates Wales

Wales escaped to victory in semi-darkness here in the Japanese capital after Australia threatened to stage the biggest comeback in World Cup history.

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Warren Gatland’s national team led by 18 points just after half-time of this absorbing encounter and appeared to be hurtling to a victory which would have left them on course to finish top of Pool D.

Instead, the Wallabies rallied gallantly and fought back to within one point, before a late Rhys Patchell penalty ensured his side hung on as half the stadium floodlights failed.  

Substitute scrum-half Tomos Williams celebrates Wales' victory after the full-time whistle with centre Jonathan Davies

Substitute scrum-half Tomos Williams celebrates Wales’ victory after the full-time whistle with centre Jonathan Davies 

Gareth Davies strides away from the Australia defence after intercepting Will Genia's pass to score Wales' second try

Gareth Davies strides away from the Australia defence after intercepting Will Genia's pass to score Wales' second try

Gareth Davies strides away from the Australia defence after intercepting Will Genia’s pass to score Wales’ second try 

Davies dives over the try-line to extend Wales' lead to 15 points at the interval, yet Australia would come storming back
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Davies dives over the try-line to extend Wales' lead to 15 points at the interval, yet Australia would come storming back

Davies dives over the try-line to extend Wales’ lead to 15 points at the interval, yet Australia would come storming back 

The Welsh led from the 36th second of this match. That was how long it took for Dan Biggar to strike a drop goal – the fastest ever at a World Cup. 

The Northampton playmaker was forced off with a head injury but Patchell deputised well, only for a powerful Australian rear-guard action during the second half, turning a procession into a tense thriller.

This was Wales’ first victory over one of the big three southern hemisphere countries at the global showpiece since they beat these opponents in the third-place play-off in 1987. In 11 previous games against the SANZAR teams at World Cups, that had been the only win.

Gatland’s men now have a nine-day break before they take on Fiji in Oita. Win that and they will qualify for the quarter-finals with a game to spare. 

What this result means is that they should finish top of the pile and avoid England – favourites to top Pool C – in the last eight. 

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A clash with France is on the cards – Eddie Jones was in attendance and he will be heartened by evidence that Australia remain talented and dynamic, but also alarmingly brittle under pressure.

Dan Biggar opted to execute a drop-goal within the first minute of the match as Wales took the initiative early

Dan Biggar opted to execute a drop-goal within the first minute of the match as Wales took the initiative early

Dan Biggar opted to execute a drop-goal within the first minute of the match as Wales took the initiative early 

Hadleigh Parkes scores the first try of the match as he claims a high-ball on the wing and falls over the whitewash

Hadleigh Parkes scores the first try of the match as he claims a high-ball on the wing and falls over the whitewash

Hadleigh Parkes scores the first try of the match as he claims a high-ball on the wing and falls over the whitewash 

Parkes celebrates with wing George North as Wales started off with an intense brand of fast-tempo attacking rugby
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Parkes celebrates with wing George North as Wales started off with an intense brand of fast-tempo attacking rugby

Parkes celebrates with wing George North as Wales started off with an intense brand of fast-tempo attacking rugby 

The start was the stuff of Welsh dreams as they went ahead within a minute. Rookie flanker Aaron Wainwright, the new sensation, won a turnover from the first ruck and after Jake Ball pounded forward in midfield, Biggar stood deep to take a pass and drill over a drop goal to give his side an immediate advantage.

Soon after, the fly-half was off-target with a penalty, but Wales were firmly in the ascendancy. They kept pressing and came close to scoring a try in the eighth minute, when Jonathan Davies nearly broke on the right, then Ken Owens released George North who was stopped short. The attack went on until Josh Adams lost the ball in contact wide on the left.

Five minutes later, Gatland’s men claimed the try which their dominance demanded. Using a penalty advantage to deadly effect, Biggar launched cross-kick to the right wing where Hadleigh Parkes easily out-jumped the flailing Marika Koroibete and twisted to touch down. Biggar converted and the lead was into double-figures.

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The Wallabies were wobbling, but they earned a vital reprieve when captain Michael Hooper avoided a card despite being penalised for a late hit on Biggar. 

Australia then hit back legitimately, with a try of their own. After James O’Connor conjured space for Kerevi to surge into the Welsh 22, Bernard Foley kicked high to Adam Ashley-Cooper and the veteran wing stepped inside and dived over.

Although Foley couldn’t add the extras, the tide had turned and the green-and-gold No 10 landed a penalty just before the half-hour. The gap was back to just two points and Australia were the ones gaining momentum.

Australia responded however, with 35-year-old veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper cutting inside and diving over for the try

Australia responded however, with 35-year-old veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper cutting inside and diving over for the try

Australia responded however, with 35-year-old veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper cutting inside and diving over for the try 

The Australia squad celebrate Ashley-Cooper's try - Bernard Foley missed a relatively straightforward conversion
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The Australia squad celebrate Ashley-Cooper's try - Bernard Foley missed a relatively straightforward conversion

The Australia squad celebrate Ashley-Cooper’s try – Bernard Foley missed a relatively straightforward conversion 

Australia's Samu Kerevi was a huge threat throughout the match, particularly in the first-half with his explosive runs forward

Australia's Samu Kerevi was a huge threat throughout the match, particularly in the first-half with his explosive runs forward

Australia’s Samu Kerevi was a huge threat throughout the match, particularly in the first-half with his explosive runs forward

Kerevi stepped beautifully passed Jonathan Davies (background) but Dan Biggar's brave hit stopped a certain try

Kerevi stepped beautifully passed Jonathan Davies (background) but Dan Biggar's brave hit stopped a certain try

Kerevi stepped beautifully passed Jonathan Davies (background) but Dan Biggar’s brave hit stopped a certain try 

Then it all turned again. Biggar had failed a Head Injury Assessment after hurling himself into the path of Kerevi to prevent a try, but his replacement, Rhys Patchell, landed a penalty with his first shot at goal. He was then sent sprawling as Kerevi’s raised forearm slammed into his throat.

The Wallaby centre was lucky to escape at least a sin-binning, but Patchell regained his composure to slot another three points from near halfway.

From the re-start, Wales dramatically struck again to take a grip on the match. Will Genia’s pass inside from the right was intercepted by opposite number Gareth Davies and the scrum-half burst clear to score by the posts. Patchell converted and the Welsh went into the break 23-8 up.

Four minutes into the second half, another patient Wales attack created the platform for another drop goal – this time by Patchell – to further reinforce their position of strength. They were almost out of sight, but Australia made some tactical changes and revived again. 

Referee Romain Poite was busy checking various high tackles in the first-half, with Australia penalised twice
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Referee Romain Poite was busy checking various high tackles in the first-half, with Australia penalised twice

Referee Romain Poite was busy checking various high tackles in the first-half, with Australia penalised twice 

Wales number eight Josh Navidi celebrates with Davies after his interception try at the end of the first-half

Wales number eight Josh Navidi celebrates with Davies after his interception try at the end of the first-half

Wales number eight Josh Navidi celebrates with Davies after his interception try at the end of the first-half

Dane Haylett-Petty of Australia scores his side's second try to reduce the deficit early during the second period

Dane Haylett-Petty of Australia scores his side's second try to reduce the deficit early during the second period

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Dane Haylett-Petty of Australia scores his side’s second try to reduce the deficit early during the second period 

Matt Toomua was brought on in place of Foley and the ex-Leicester back made an immediate impact. He broke clear on the left and combined well with Koroibete before being hauled down just short of the line. 

With the Welsh defence desperately scrambling, David Pocock’s pass finally broke them open as Dane Haylett-Petty scored with a flourish. Toomua converted and it was game on again in this pulsating encounter.

The Wallabies came again – sensing their chance. Just after the hour, Cheika’s side had series of penalties in range of the Welsh posts and chose to repeatedly go to the corner. Their approach was eventually rewarded as waves of close-range drives led to Hooper crashing over for a try which Toomua converted.

Wales couldn’t re-establish a foothold and when they conceded a scrum penalty 12 minutes from time, Toomua’s successful kicked reduced the deficit to just one point. 

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Tension was etched on Gatland’s face in the stand, but once Patchell’s penalty had provided renewed stability, there was soon a smile on the Kiwi’s face again.

Wales fought valiantly to keep Australia out mid-way through the second half but Michael Hooper eventually went over

Wales fought valiantly to keep Australia out mid-way through the second half but Michael Hooper eventually went over

Wales fought valiantly to keep Australia out mid-way through the second half but Michael Hooper eventually went over 

Replacement Rhys Patchell kicked over a late penalty to give Wales some much-needed breathing space in the final minutes

Replacement Rhys Patchell kicked over a late penalty to give Wales some much-needed breathing space in the final minutes

Replacement Rhys Patchell kicked over a late penalty to give Wales some much-needed breathing space in the final minutes