CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Wales ended a 13-match losing run against Australia as Dan Biggar kicked a late penalty for a 9-6 win in Cardiff on Saturday.
In an attritional game dominated by penalty kicks, the most crucial one came with three minutes left when Biggar bisected the posts with his first contribution after coming on as a replacement.
This fixture has a recent history of close finishes, with the Australians coming out on top in all of them. Their last loss against the Welsh came a decade ago — and that also arrived in Cardiff courtesy of a late kick by a flyhalf, Stephen Jones.
It was 3-3 at halftime after Wales fullback Leigh Halfpenny and Australia flyhalf Bernard Foley traded penalties. Halfpenny reclaimed the lead for Wales with a penalty in the 68th, only for Matt Toomua to tie the game for the Wallabies seven minutes later.
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Biggar kicked what proved to be the winning points and was the player who booted the ball out of play to end the game, and Wales’ run of defeats to Australia.
“It’s been a long time,” Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones said. “Somebody reminded me I was the sole survivor from 2008. We’ve lost by many a fine margin and today, I’ll be honest, we won by a fine margin. I’m proud of the boys.”
The Welsh have won seven straight tests for the first time since 2004-05, with this latest victory potentially boosting confidence ahead of a pool match against the Wallabies at the Rugby World Cup in Tokyo next year.
“It’s probably the most comfortable we’ve been defensively against Australia,” Wales coach Warren Gatland said. “We’re in a really good place building up for the next 12 months.”
For Australia, it is eight losses in 11 tests in 2018 and the team has dropped to No. 6 in the world less than a year out from the Rugby World Cup.
“That hurts,” Australia captain Michael Hooper said of the result. “Credit to them (Wales), they stuck at it. It was a real grudge match, a real test match.”
It will not be one that lives long in the memory for the neutral, though. There were even two uncharacteristic penalty misses from near the posts by Halfpenny, one of the best place-kickers in the history of the game.
He had already missed an easy one when he booted the first points of the game after 22 minutes, but Australia drew level seven minutes before the break when Foley kicked a 40-meter penalty after Wales flanker Dan Lydiate drifted offside.
Referee Ben O’Keeffe completely missed a high arm-led challenge by Wyn Jones on Foley just before the penalty was awarded, and it could yet attract further scrutiny.
Another missed penalty from Halfpenny, this one a sitter from in front of the posts, meant the teams went in 3-3 at halftime and Wales suffered a low when winger George North limped off early in the second half, to be replaced by Liam Williams.
The Australians sacrificed a kickable penalty just 20 meters out, kicking for touch and an attacking lineout instead, but they knocked on possession and wasted the chance.
The Wallabies were growing in confidence, with Israel Folau starting to roam dangerously off his wing, and Wales required a lengthy clearance from Jonathan Davies to gain a foothold back in Australian territory.
Then came all the drama of the final 12 minutes, with Biggar kicking the winning points soon after coming on for the dazed Halfpenny.
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