Bronzed Aussies down Welsh for third
The Rugby World Cup needs a good final on Sunday after Australia edged Wales to claim the bronze medal in an error-filled play-off for third at Eden Park last night.
These games are never easy but the Wallabies and Red Dragons made a mess of this one for long periods.
The only real joy was on the scoreboard for Australia where they eventually hung on for a 21-18 win after both sides bravely threw everything at it over the final quarter.
But 23 handling errors littered the match with Wales claiming the honours there 12-11. Referee Wayne Barnes blew 18 penalties in a stop-start affair which featured just one clean line break.
The onus is now on the All Blacks and French to try to finish the tournament off in style on Sunday.
It was hard to gauge who had the most difficult job lifting the emotions going into the bronze medal match after the contrasting but equally heartbreaking semifinal defeats - the Wallabies coming off a walloping from the All Blacks or the brave Welsh being pipped by France.
In the end neither made a very good job of it. And in the end both teams were out on their feet which raises question marks over the validity of this fixture.
There was no lack of endeavour but the execution was certainly lacking with those handling errors blighting both team's attacking intentions.
Hopes of a festival style match never emerged despite the good conditions.
It was a victory for the southern hemisphere with the Tri-Nations champions triumphing.
It was a nice way to celebrate Nathan Sharpe's 100th test although he lasted just 46 minutes before limping off with a leg injujry. And the result reversed the result of this game 24 years ago when Wales beat Australia 22-21 in the 1987 play-off.
But the victory was costly. The Wallabies lost fullback Kurtley Beale after 10 minutes when his dodgy hamstring gave way for the second time in this tournament.
And Quade Cooper's inglorious World Cup ended soon after when an attempted goose step went wrong, collapsing him to the ground and leaving him in agony with a seriously injured right knee that left him on crutches.
The Wallabies were content to play a percentage game, kicking for territory and looking for the rewards of pressure.
After a couple of fluffed attempts the Wallabies finally opened the scoring in the 12th minute with a flat pass from Cooper sending the hard running Berrick Barnes over from close range.
The Welsh had a good period of attack from there but had to settle for three points from James Hook's successful penalty from in front.
Missed penalties from Leigh Halfpenny and Stephen Jones cost the Welsh as the game muddle on.
The Welsh finally got some payback - and a bit of luck from referee Barnes - when Ryan Jones won a turnover on halfway. Hook's half-break saw him send out a long and slightly forward pass to Shane Williams who booted it on twice and won the race to the line for the try to put the men in red ahead for the first time at 8-7.
But it was short-lived with James O'Connor landing a 42m penalty soon after from a Welsh ruck infringement.
They did it four minutes later and O'Connor repeated the medicine.
The Welsh got so desperate that even wonder wing Williams uncharacteristically tried a drop goal in the 63rd minute that predictably sliced off his left boot when a more patient approach was all that was required.
They soon paid the price at the other end with Barnes snapping a drop goal of his own, taking the Wallabies out to a handy eight-point lead.
Stephen Jones gave Wales some hope with a penalty.
The Wallabies botched one try t0o seal the match when Adam Ashley-Cooper was stripped of the ball with the line open.
But big No 8 Ben McCalman made no mistake soon after to give the Wallabies something to cheer about.
There was time for Leigh Halfpenny to cross with the last act of the match but it was too late for Wales and a disappointing end to what had been a pretty decent tournament for them.
Australia 21 (Berrick Barnes, Ben McCalman tries; James O'Connor con, 2 pen; Barnes drop goal) Wales 18 (Shane Williams, Leigh Halfpenny tries; James Hook pen; Stephen Jones con, pen)