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Tired Welsh let Australia off the hook

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A last-gasp try from Stephen Hoiles helped Australia bounce back from an early 0-17 deficit to beat Wales as anticipated on Saturday, but John Connolly’s new-look team made life mighty hard for themselves in the 29-23 win.

A less weary team than the Welsh would not have let Australia off though, and despite the win, Connolly will know that his team still has a lot to prove in the second Test next week.

What a finish! Once again the sound of the hooter produced the biggest drama of the match – a match that nearly produced an upset of exalting proportions for the Welsh and humiliating proportions for the Wallabies.

It nearly was the greatest Welsh victory in the Southern Hemisphere since Rorke’s Drift. Written of and vilified since their arrival in Australia they stood up manfully and justified their existence and worthiness as international players.

When time was up the Welsh led. When the final whistle went the Wallabies led.

The Welsh were defending like that Welch Regiment of old, manful, shoulder to shoulder, Men of Harlech in their throats. That day they won 11 VCs as the Zulus, exultant after victory at Islandhwana, flung themselves at the little garrison behind the biscuit tins. On this day, too, they found new energy and resolve to keep the Wallabies back in their own territory. With a little over a minute to play they led 23-22 and had a scrum in the Welsh half.

Jonathan Thomas played to replacement scrumhalf Gareth Cooper who grubbered down into the Wallaby 22. Julien Huxley fielded the ball and hoofed it low and hard and far. It rolled down into the Welsh 22 where Griffiths fielded it and kicked for touch, a poor clearing kick. The line-out was on the Wallaby left. They won it and went far right, as the hooter went to herald the end of the match. The Wallabies came back far left with inroads made by Matt Giteau and, tellingly, by Rocky Elsom. When they went far right Sam Norton-Knight threw a long, left-handed skip pass and there was replacement loose forward Stephen Hoiles to surge over in the corner for the try that won the match for the Wallabies.

At Rorke’s Drift, one of the 11 VCs was Alfred Hook. At Telstra Stadium one of the 22 VCs was going to be James Hook, till that try on 80 minutes 26 seconds.

What, of course, this did was earn great credit for Wales and its rugby and sound a warning alarm to the South Hemisphere countries as they prepare to welcome lambs to the slaughter. These Welsh were not lambs.

The first half suggested that the Wallabies were going to win easily, except that the Welsh were the ones scoring the points – against the run of play but a heap of points. Before 20 minutes were played Wales led 17-0. The unthinkable looked possible.

At that stage the Wallabies were rejoicing in a cornucopia of possession, but they managed to turn it into Welsh tries as their hands let them down. It was significant that two left-hand passes by Norton-Knight helped in the scoring of Hoiles’s try because it was left-handed passing that led to the two Welsh tries.

A clever kick by Drew Mitchell had settled the wallabies into comfortable attack down on their left but then they came right and novice Norton-Knight threw a difficult – difficult not impossible – pass to Stirling Mortlock. It fell on the ground and Welsh left wing Chris Czekaj snapped it up and started running down the field. Wallabies closed in and he kicked ahead. Giteau could not control the ball. Hook snapped it up, weighed up his options and gave to captain Gareth Thomas who went over and eventually, helped by Gavin Thomas scored his 38th Test try, breaking his own record in his record-breaking 93rd Test. Hook converted. That was some two minutes into the match.

The crowd of 40 872 settled back to watch the Wallabies attack. Mortlock hit the upright with a kickable penalty and their handling helped the Welsh to keep them at bay. But all the signs

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