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A 21-18 defeat to Australia in the third/fourth place play-off match saw Wales end their 2011 Rugby World Cup campaign with their least impressive performance of the tournament.

Roars of frustration from back home will have been audible in Eden Park as they were beaten in most aspects of the game. If nothing, it showed how much absent newcomers Sam Warburton and Rhys Priestland have come to mean to the squad.

Australia, who lost two of their own stars early on in fullback Kurtley Beale and fly-half Quade Cooper, were left to wonder what might have been. Had they shown such tempo in earlier matches, they might have been playing in tomorrow's final instead of competing for third place.

Berrick Barnes moved early from inside centre to ten as Cooper departed with a worrying knee injury. Barnes almost didn't make the World Cup because of a self-imposed sabbatical due to persistent head injuries, but Australia became a different beast with him at the helm. They certainly weren't the 'Dullabies' some members of the Kiwi press have nicknamed them.

On the flipside, Welsh ten James Hook – indisputably a player with a brimful of talent – was unable to give outside players decent ball to run onto. These included centre Jamie Roberts, who was labelled the best player of the tournament by Wallaby, Adam Ashley-Cooper, before the game.

In fairness, Hook's cause wasn't helped by the Wallabies forwards having the edge at the line-out, breakdown and, surprisingly, the scrum. Tighthead prop Adam Jones might have proven an even more telling absence than wunderkinds Warburton and Priestland, given the free rein enjoyed by Australian scrum-half Will Genia.

'Missed kicks have blighted Wales' efforts this year'

The little luck that has gone Wales' way in this World Cup could be seen in Shane Williams' try, which came from a forward pass from James Hook that was missed by the referee. It was a facsimile of the forward pass missed by the same referee that resulted in the All Blacks' 2007 semi-final loss to France.

Missed kicks have blighted Wales' efforts this year, and their failure in this area was contrasted by successes of the cherubic James O'Connor. In fact, aimless kicks might have been equally damaging, especially at times when it would have been better to keep the ball in hand.

However late it may have been, Welsh resurgence came from George North's incredible try-saving tackle on Ashley-Cooper, dislodging the ball from his grasp. A bloodied North had shown his bountiful strength earlier on in handing off danger man and opposite number Digby Ioane. Plaudits must also go to Ryan Jones, who was at the heart of what was good from Wales.

The Wallabies sealed the win in the 76th, when great handling saw number eight Ben McCalman score a try, adding to Barnes' earlier effort.

Wales finished off in some style, though, aided by the rapid distribution of replacement scrum-half Lloyd Williams. They went through countless phases before Shane Williams' beautiful tap pass sent the ball to Alun Wyn Jones, who put Leigh Halfpenny over in the corner. Williams showed he is in the form of his life and should put off any plans of imminent retirement. He is simply a joy to watch.

With both sides possessing such youthful talent, as well as a core of experienced players nearing full maturity, a bright future looks to be theirs for the taking - despite this rather tame encounter.
 

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