This should have been close, but it turned into a bloodbath. Wales became the first team to qualify for the World Cup quarter-finals – leaving Eddie Jones and his Wallabies on the brink of collapse.
Warren Gatland’s rejuvenated team are heading for places at this tournament, while their routed rivals are almost certain to head home very soon, amid bitter recriminations, after their dismal second defeat of the season. Wales have won three out of three and will play Georgia in Nantes on October 7 with a chance to finish top of Group C.
The old coaching opponents shook hands before kick-off before Gatland watched his side humiliate the disintegrating Wallabies by a record margin. Their efforts will add to the storm around Jones, which raged on Sunday and will continue to rage in the days and weeks to come. His tenure has produced one win from eight Tests. If Japan wants him, perhaps his bewildered employers will let him go.
Dan Biggar was forced off in the 12th minute, but Gareth Anscombe replaced him and took the lead. He went on to score 23 points and conjure up a second half try for Nick Tompkins, effectively ending this match with over half an hour to go.
Wales had a dominant maul and ultimately a dominant scrum. They were inspired by the all-round class of captain Jac Morgan, the thunderous Taulupe Faletau and Will Rowlands, and the stealthy tenacity of Gareth Davies.
Gareth Anscombe (right) helped Wales beat Australia and secure a place in the next round
Gareth Davies scored the first try of the match as Wales flew out of the blocks with clear intent
The win was Wales’ biggest ever over Australia and the Wallabies’ heaviest at a World Cup
DEAL FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
Wales – Tries: Davies 3, Tompkins 48, Morgan 7. Pens: Anscombe 21, 29, 39, 43, 52. Cons: Biggar 4, Anscombe 49. Drop goal: Anscombe 70.
Australia – Pens: Donaldson 9, 14.
WALES:LWilliams 7; Rees-Zammit 7 (Dyer 71, 6), North 7, Tompkins 8, Adams 8.5; Biggar 5 (Anscombe 12, 9), Davies 7.5 (T Williams 60, 7); G Thomas 6.5 (Domachowski 67, 6.5), Elias 7 (Dee 67, 6.5), Francis 7 (H Thomas 67, 6.5), Rowlands 8.5 (Jenkins 71, 6), Beard 7 .5, Wainwright 7.5 (Basham 71, 6), Morgan (captain) 9, Faletau 8.5.
AUSTRALIA: Kellaway 4.5 (Vunivalu 60, 5); Nawaqanitawase 4, Petaia 5, Kerevi 4.5, Koroibete 4; Donaldson 5 (Gordon 53, 5), McDermott 6 (White 68, 5.5); Bell 6.5 (Schoupp 68, 6), Porecki (capt) 4.5 (Faessler 60, 5), Slipper 4 (Fa’amausili 40, 5), Frost 6, Arnold 5.5 (Philip 66, 6), Leota 5 (McReight 50, 5), T Hooper 5.5, Valetini 5.5.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England).
Starman: Jac Morgan (Wales).
Gatland’s second coming is now showing signs of being a fast-paced version of the first. A path is opening up for a rise to the semi-finals, with Argentina the likely opponent to beat in the last eight.
In 2011, during the Kiwi’s first term in office, Wales reached a semi-final and almost the final. That feat was repeated in 2019 and now, remarkably, it could be repeated in 2023.
What a transformation since the beginning of the year. In the Six Nations, after Gatland was brought back in to replace his sacked compatriot Wayne Pivac, there was no immediate bounce.
Instead, there were four losses and a fifth-place finish, not to mention a contractual dispute that almost led to a players’ strike. Wales captain Ken Owens admitted Welsh rugby was a ‘joke’.
The unrest continued when Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric announced their retirement from Shock Test on the same day in May; creating the sense of increasing emergency for Gatland.
The situation looked bleak and the returning head coach knew it. He admitted that had he realized the scale of the crisis in all areas of Welsh rugby he might not have agreed to return. “If I had known,” he said, “I probably would have gone somewhere else.”
Yet he has since overseen a remarkable reboot. Once Wales was in camp together, he was in his element; being able to work on their fitness, mind and game plan unhindered by external factors. There was a palpable mood change.
Wales came to France and declared that they could ‘shock’ people. They had stuck to their declarations of intent by holding on for a bonus point win against Fiji – a feat put into context by the Pacific Islanders’ subsequent victory over Australia – and claiming another bonus at the death against the plucky Portugal. Now this.
The Wallabies went into this match in a state of near disarray, a week after the 22-15 defeat to Fiji at St Etienne unleashed a torrent of damnation Down Under. They had to make do without two giants of their pack, captain Will Skelton and Taniela ‘Tongan Thor’ Tupou – and then came the matchday circus over Jones’ talks with Japan.
Eddie Jones (left) was booed as he appeared on the big screen after reported talks with Japan. Meanwhile, Warren Gatland (right) was cheered
Wales’ number 10 Dan Biggar left early in the first half with a shoulder injury but his presence was not missed
Against this difficult backdrop for the Australians, it was no surprise that Wales took the lead in the third minute with a well-executed try. From a lineout on the left the ball was sent upfield and Nick Tompkins’ well-timed pass saw Morgan shoot through a gap. The Wales captain drew the last defender before releasing Davies for a sprint to the line. Biggar converted to make it 7-0.
There was a swift response from the Wallabies, indicating they remained united and committed. Ben Donaldson hit two penalties for Jones’ side – the second after Biggar was forced off in obvious pain.
It was tight and tense and brutally physical. Anscombe missed his first shot on target but recovered to land the next three penalty attempts as Wales’ driving maul – not to mention a dazzling 50-22 kick from Morgan – gave them territorial control.
Nick Tompkins also scored for Wales after Anscombe cleared him late in the match
Right at half-time, Gatland’s men could have claimed a second try. From a dominant scrum on halfway, with penalty advantage, Faletau, Davies and George North combined down the right to send Louis Rees-Zammit towards the corner, but the Australian defense scrambled well to prevent him hitting the ground. Yet Wales went into halftime with a ten-point lead – rightly so.
After the break it became a procession. Anscombe scored another penalty and then tapped past an onrushing defense for Tompkins to chase through and touch down in the 48th minute. Game is over. But Wales kept coming. Another penalty in the 52nd minute. Another in the 60’s.
The noise and morale of Australia were in ruins. That may also be true of Jones’ short but shabby regime. Anscombe scored a drop goal. Morgan touched down after a lineout drive. It was a massacre.
One side didn’t want it to end, the other side seemed to be already halfway to the airport. They will be there very soon, for the long and miserable flight home.