Cardiff's Millennium Stadium played host to a mammoth encounter between Wales and Australia and, perhaps more importantly, the final international appearance of Shane Williams...
Rugby matches aren't usually about the individual. This was an exception. There were tears shed before and after the game by Shane Williams, making his international swansong before setting off into the sunset (or Swansea, where he will continue to play for the Ospreys). Many, many fans at the Millennium Stadium were there for the sole purpose of seeing the Great Entertainer wearing the Welsh shirt for the last time.
So while Wales lost the encounter 24-18, and they will have to be harsh in analysing certain areas of their game, it was the chance for Williams to say farewell to something he'd won a long time ago: the crowd.
'Australia went into blitzkrieg mode, scoring three tries in ten minutes.'
By June of next year, the Wallabies' last five Test matches will have been against Wales. What more do Wales need to know about the Antipodeans that they don't already know? Most of it was on display today: they sure know how to capitalise on a one-man advantage. The moment Leigh Halfpenny was binned for tackling James O'Connor off the ball with the Welsh tryline beckoning - well, he was damned if he did and damned if he didn't - Australia went into blitzkrieg mode, scoring three tries in ten minutes.
The first by Will Genia was typical of the scrum-half, spotting a gap around the fringes of a ruck and showing the strength to get over the line. The second came from a simple pass from veteran Radike Samo, the flanker putting Berrick Barnes into space for the simplest of scores. James O'Connor made a beautifully acute miss pass to Lachie Turner on the wing to score Australia's final try. Worryingly for Wales, they had been leading 6-3 when the fullback departed in the 49th minute.
It had been an unremarkable first half in chilly Cardiff, so for Australia fans to witness a hat-trick in this short space of time would have been like the scorching Queensland sun shining on them. The air of nonchalance extended to the referee Jonathan Kaplan, who seemed to miss an awful lot, from knock-ons to crooked line-out throws.
For Wales, prop Gethin Jenkins and Ian Evans, the lock back in from the cold of international wilderness, were in outstanding form. The much-anticipated battle of the sevens, Sam Warburton and David Pocock, was shaded by the former. In fact, it was all too brief -more of a skirmish- with Pocock not making it out to the field for the second half.
Those looking for excitement, though, would have been better served watching the Help For Heroes match at Twickenham, where a hooker scored a length of the field try that would have made Christian Cullen proud. For fans of the bosh, one of the few highlights of the game at the Millennium Stadium was Jamie Roberts' sledgehammer of a hit on his opposite centre Berrick Barnes. How he got up from that one remains a mystery.
Respite from the overwhelming Australian strike force came for Wales in the form of a Rhys Priestland try, after some strong runs by replacement second-row Ryan Jones, hooker Matthew Rees and winger George North enabled the fly-half to barge his way over. But the best was yet to come for the Welsh.
In the dying minutes of the game, number eight Toby Faletau charged up the wing, knocking down Barnes and taking a few more would-be tacklers with him on his trip. Moments later, with Barnes possibly still dazed from being steamrolled, he fell off a tackle on Shane Williams which enabled the winger to go over for his 58th and final Test try. He touched down with a somersault, entertaining us till the last. The world of international rugby is, for the time being, a poorer place without him.
- The Taking Down of Jamie Roberts – part 2
- Rugby World Cup Final 2011 report
- Officlal Welsh Rugby homepage wru.co.uk