Australia held off a desperate Welsh side despite being two men down in the Rugby World Cup to take a 15-6 win on Saturday and finish atop Group A.
For seven minutes, Wales looked as if they could secure their first win over Australia in seven years after the Wallabies’ scrum half Will Genia and lock Dean Mumm were yellow-carded.
But Australia produced a textbook defensive rearguard to repulse phase after phase of Welsh attacks and progress into the quarter-finals as strong favourites to win the tournament for a third time.
“I was very proud, I’m not shy to say that I was very proud of the lads because that’s a very difficult situation considering the context of the game and I was very proud of their resilience there and their intent to go and do what they did,” said Australia head coach Michael Cheika.
Speaking about the double yellow-card, he added: “We definitely don’t want to be doing that again, that’s for sure because we got away with it this time but we won’t get away with it at this level too many times.”
Wales started quickly by delivering a strong scrum, and after almost running in an early try, had Dan Biggar open the scoring with an easy kick within five minutes.
The Wallabies looked visibly flustered by Wales’ fast-paced play, but grew in confidence after Bernard Foley kicked into touch to give the side their best attacking position in the game so far.
Wales’ first slip came shortly after when the ball was left in the scrum too long, and though Foley obliged with the penalty, he was given an another opportunity when Justin Tipuric was caught off his feet.
Biggar soon drew the scores level with a second successive penalty, but Wales, who had managed to get on the wrong side of referee Craig Joubert, was warned that a yellow-card would be awarded to the next player to concede a penalty.
As Taulupe Faletau emerged the one at fault and Foley kicked a hat-trick to put Australia ahead, Biggar missed his first kick of the tournament at the 16th attempt.
Australia centre Matt Giteau then made the same error at the other end with a hopeful long-range penalty during the first half’s final moments, but the Wallabies had done enough to go into the break 9-6 ahead.
A 50th-minute penalty by Foley added three more points onto Australia’s tally, but bad news was on its way as Genia, then Mumm, was sin-binned for technical offences, as Wales advanced to within five yards of the try-line.
But the Wallabies remained resolute to hold off the relentless attacks, and it was in fact Wales who ended the match one-man down after Alex Cuthbert was yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on.
Foley missed his final chance to increase Australia’s advantage, but they had done enough to secure the win and send Wales into the seemingly tougher quarter-final clash against South Africa in just seven day’s time.