Big­gar holds nerve to en­sure gutsy Welsh end decade of hurt against Wal­la­bies

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby Union - By James Cor­ri­gan at the Prin­ci­pal­ity Sta­dium

Fi­nally. Af­ter 10 years, 13 suc­ces­sive de­feats and so many ag­o­nis­ingly close calls, Wales ac­tu­ally went ahead and beat Aus­tralia and even if the game was ugly, the vic­tory, it­self, felt like a thing of rare beauty to the Prin­ci­pal­ity Sta­dium. The nerves were shred­ded but then so were the at­tack­ing game­plans in this try­less, ex­cru­ci­at­ing nail-biter.

Dan Big­gar was ul­ti­mately the hero, nerve­lessly kick­ing the win­ning penalty with three min­utes to go, af­ter Leigh Half­penny, the metronome with the radar in his right boot, had suf­fered a night­mar­ish mal­func­tion.

And so they jumped around and cel­e­brated and toasted those ex­or­cised ghosts, in the knowl­edge that they have at last shed the mon­key off their backs just in time for next year’s World Cup in Ja­pan, where they face Aus­tralia in the pool stages.

“It has been a long time com­ing,” Alun Wyn Jones, the Wales cap­tain, said. “Some­one re­minded me I was the sole sur­vivor from the win in 2008 and that shows how old I am. This is sweeter. Dan is a com­pet­i­tive an­i­mal and he prob­a­bly wouldn’t have wanted it any other way that for it to come down to the wire and then come on and do his job.”

War­ren Gat­land had pur­pose­fully kept this Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lion ly­ing in wait to thwart the cus­tom­ary Aus­tralia late charge for glory and so his plan paid off. Ex­cept no­body who had wit­nessed the pre­vi­ous 10 years of ex­cite­ment would have planned for this en­counter in which the de­fend­ers and the ref­eree’s whis­tle had far too much in­flu­ence. “It was not pretty but we will take any win against this lot,” Justin Tipuric, the man of the match, said.

This makes it seven wins in a row for Wales – their long­est tri­umphant run for 13 years – and as Tipuric said “we are build­ing up some se­ri­ous mo­men­tum”. That is in stark con­trast to Aus­tralia, who have lost eight out of their 10 matches this year. Michael Cheika, their coach, is in trou­ble and for his con­tin­u­ing em­ploy­ment the forth­com­ing Tests against Italy and Eng­land will take on huge sig­nif­i­cance.

“It has been a long time jinx play­ing us and you could see how happy they were to get on top,” Michael Hooper, the Aus­tralian cap­tain, said. “It was a real grudge match. Con­grat­u­la­tions to Wales, but it re­ally hurts. We will re­group. We have got two more games to play on this trip and a hell of a lot to play for each week.”

In his ju­bi­la­tion, Gat­land still har­boured a gripe. He was un­der­stand­ably baf­fled that Ben O’Ke­effe, the New Zealand ref­eree, did not even award a penalty for Kurt­ley Beale’s late, crash­ing shoul­der into Half­penny’s head.

The full-back was forced to leave the field and now has to un­dergo the HIA

Spring­bok smash-and-grab

South Africa scored a try in stop­page time to snatch a 29-26 win over France at the Stade de France. The Spring­boks stole pos­ses­sion with less than a minute left and went al­most the en­tire length of the field, with the help of four penal­ties, be­fore hooker Bongi Mbonambi surged over. They had been 23-9 down early in the sec­ond half. pro­to­cols. He said: “It was reck­less. He’s gone for the charge down and just stayed in that po­si­tion. You can move your shoul­der out of there and have less of an im­pact on Leigh. I thought it war­ranted a penalty or a yel­low card.”

On Half­penny’s penalty woes in the first half, Gat­land said: “I never thought I’d see the day when Leigh Half­penny would miss two penal­ties from in front of the posts but hope­fully that will be his mon­key off the back as well. Maybe in the past, his game would have gone to pieces af­ter that, but world-class play­ers shrug it off and get on with it and this what Leigh did in the sec­ond half. I thought he was out­stand­ing.”

Gat­land re­vealed that he will likely field an en­tirely dif­fer­ent XV for next week’s clash with Tonga and, in truth, the first-team­ers could prob­a­bly do with a rest af­ter this Test of at­tri­tion. The nor­mal nar­ra­tive for this fix­ture in the last decade has been an open, freescor­ing spec­tac­u­lar in which Aus­tralia have al­ways found the where­withal at the death to break red-shirted hearts. This did not fol­low the script at all.

It was a first-half, in par­tic­u­lar, which only a mother and a de­fence coach could ever have loved. There was very lit­tle, if any­thing, to get the fans off their feet, although the sight of Half­penny skew­ing a few sit­ters did have many ob­servers stand­ing up and rub­bing their eyes in as­ton­ish­ment.

If his push in the 13th minute was sur­pris­ing, then his miss just be­fore the break was truly jaw-drop­ping. As the teams trooped down the tun­nel, Half­penny stood there on the pitch with his head in the hands in dis­be­lief that he failed to make it 6-3. This sim­ply does not hap­pen to the Scar­lets full-back.

As Gat­land said, Half­penny came out like a player pos­sessed af­ter the break, although he was ac­tu­ally plainly des­per­ate to dis­pos­sess him­self of his demons.

The sec­ond half was more watch­able for the thrill-seek­ers, but the lines still held firm. “That was prob­a­bly the most com­fort­able we’ve ever been de­fen­sively play­ing against Aus­tralia,” Gat­land said.

In fair­ness, the vis­i­tors looked just as com­fort­able in de­fence and so the arm wres­tle con­tin­ued. Wales lost Ge­orge North to a dead leg early in the sec­ond half, but it was al­ready the other Welsh wing im­press­ing. Gat­land was gush­ing about the con­tri­bu­tion about Josh Adams. “He was my man of the match, “Gat­land said. “I thought he was ab­so­lutely bril­liant.”

Liam Wil­liams came on for North, as Gat­land be­gan to empty what he called “the strong­est bench we’ve had in my time with Wales”.

It is doubt­ful Big­gar would have tasted ac­tion but for Half­penny’s knock. By then Half­penny had con­verted the penalty to make it 6-3 be­fore Matt Toomua took ad­van­tage of O’Ke­effe not call­ing the penalty on Beale by nail­ing a kick from wide out.

As it was, the Northamp­ton fly-half ’s first touch was the de­fin­i­tive penalty, although Gat­land was not so cer­tain it would be enough. “The com­po­sure was good in the fi­nal stages, not that my com­po­sure was good, as I was strug­gling in the last few min­utes as I thought it was go­ing to be deja vu,” Gat­land said. “Credit to the guys, though, they held out.”

Boil­ing point: Aus­tralia play­ers sur­round Ross Mo­ri­arty play­ers dur­ing Wales’ nail-bit­ing vic­tory, their first in 14 at­tempts over the Wal­la­bies

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