The BMV Australia Under 20s won their first game of the World Rugby Under 20 Championship when they shocked Wales with their finish to win 24-17.
At Tblisi in Georgia, outside centre Izaia Perese broke through shoddy Wales’ defence to break a deadlock with three minutes remaining and left the Welsh lads shattered.
Australia had a strong wind behind them, but they didn’t use it well.
Wales looked slick when flyhalf Dobson cross-kicked for hooker Shipp and he popped the ball up from the ground on the 22 to the flying 12 Lewis, who had nothing but grass in front of him.
At six minutes Wales led 7-0 after the Dobson conversion. If that is what they could do with their first real chance, it was going to be a long day for the young Aussies.
But there was no more scoring for about 25 minutes and in that time the Welsh enjoyed a majority of possession, and despite playing against the wind, they were able to play more in the Aussie half than their own.
They kicked the ball low to effect whereas the boys in gold over-kicked it. Dobson was playing a bad hand well for Wales, but his opposing 10, Stewart, with a windy ace up his sleeve, could not win a trick.
Wales should have scored more points in the half with the opportunities they had but they couldn’t breach the Aussie defence, even after winger Kennewell got binned in the 20th minute for a lifting tackle of Jim Botham, grandson of Sir Ian.
Nor did poor handling help the Welsh cause, nor an inability to to stop the big Aussie front rowers from gaining ground.
But they were stripping the ball a lot and playing in the Aussie half as if they had rented it.
Scrumhalf Goddard kicked a penalty goal for Australia on the half-hour mark after missing one. Wales 10-3.
Then the southerners had the first of their three big moments of the game.
It started with a Wales’ scrum five metres in their own half. The Aussies had the edge in that department by then and they exerted so much pressure that the Wales hooker had to stretch to hook the ball, but all he did was kick it forward.
The Aussie Under 20s launched ensemble play from the tighthead possession and eventually fullback McNamara used his Sevens’ skills for a delicate pass to set up a try for winger Hutchison.
Hutchison nearly scored his second on the buzzer, but fullback Talbot-Davies launched a diving tackle and grabbed his arm to dislodge the pill just as the winger was doing his own dive to score.
Half-time score: Australia 10 – Wales 7
The to and fro from both sides after the break doesn’t bear repeating, because it was much the same as earlier, except that Wales used the wind like yachtsmen and played in the Aussie half even more.
Wales had their second magic moment 55 metres out when their scrum wheeled near touch, taking the Aus loosies out of play.
No. 8 Botham hared down the the blind side and in one of the best skills efforts of the day, scrummie Blacken took the pass behind him, with one arm, and scored. Converted from wide-out, Wales 14-10.
Rugby was breaking out, and from the restart the ball was hoofed to McNamara who danced through tacklers from 70 metres away.
The run and a few passes set up barges by the big gold boppers on the Wales’s goal-line and replacement LHP Johnson Holmes scored.
A fine conversion by replacement 9 Nucifora had Australia ahead 17-14 on the hour mark.
For the next 15 minutes Wales parked in Aussie territory like squatters. They had plenty of chances including 5-metre lineouts, goal-line attacks, and a long penalty attempt, but to no effect.
Finally Robson had had enough and with a few minutes remaining, he called for the ball behind the ruck and slotted a nifty field goal. 17-apiece.
But Australia got the ball back from the restart and after a couple of passes Perese glided through to win the game.
Full-time score: Australia 24 – Wales 17
After all that slog from both teams it seemed too easy to finish the game like that. The fellows in red must have been gutted, and the blokes in gold, over the moon.
But the Wales’ players have to look in the mirror and question why they made so many handling errors, especially those not forced on them.
The penetration by their forwards in the Aussie red zone was tepid and will have to improve against England. Their backs were not dangerous either.
The Aussies were like babes in the woods playing the windy conditions. Their backline play was schoolboy stuff and I’m not talking about 1st XV standard either. They passed left to right and if that worked they would pass right to left, without moving forward much.
There was no deception and it’s no wonder when everybody ran in a straight line and were not bursting onto the ball.
The game changer
The tackle of the Wales’ fullback grabbing Hutchison’s arm in the act of attempting to score just before half-time seemed to be a key moment but the game changer came at the end.
When the Aussies kicked off with three minutes left, Wales’ replacement forward Ward dropped the ball cold and Johnson-Holmes redeemed it.
When Perese got it a few plays later Ward wasn’t close enough to his centre in the defensive line and Perese sprinted through the gap.
For Wales flyhalf Dobson used the wind well and his kick for hooker Shipp to set up their first try was a peach.
In the forwards LHP Carre and lock Bradbury were bruisers in the tight, and opensider Jones, the skipper, was like a jackal.
The Aussie front rowers ran well in traffic especially Super Rugby players Vui and Uelese.
Fullback McNamara was the best of the Sevens players though he is no hoofer of the ball for exit purposes.
Perese had some poor moments but when he was good he was brilliant. If he and Tuipulotu can help the other one to get more chances instead of playing on their own account, it could be diamonds for the Aussies instead of rocks.
Man-of-the-match – This award has to go to either 6 Scott-Young or 8 Hewat and I’m giving it to Scott-Young for his manic loose-tight play, and his canny anticipation of what to do and when to do it.