The late withdrawal during the week of lock Ian Evans added further disruption to Wales’ injury hit team as the Blues’ Lou Reed was called into the starting team as a replacement against Australia.
Matters were made worse when in the third minute, fellow lock Luke Charteris got his head on the wrong side of a tackle. Clearly shaken, he received treatment but never played at his best for the rest of the first half.
It was a vastly improved display from Wales in the first half after a shaky opening ten minutes, and they drove Australia backwards with a stern defence. Great vision and passing from Priestland saw Alex Cuthbert break out of Wales’ 22 yet agonisingly he chose the outside line, having missed Faletau running up in support on the inside, and was tackled into touch.
It was an exchange of penalties in the first half, with neither side getting enough possession in the right areas of the pitch. A great run from Leigh Halfpenny saw Wales’ closest chance at try as he kicked ahead, yet Wycliff Palu covered back brilliantly to touch down ahead of the ever present Faletau.
Both Beale and Halfpenny missed shots at goal, and the visitors went into halftime with a slender three point lead, which went slightly against the run of play.
Ryan Jones took to the field in the second half in place of the still shaken Charteris. It was a concern for Wales now that they didn’t have a single regular starting second row on the pitch, and unsurprisingly their lineout started to wobble.
Time and again they won hard earned penalties and field position only to cough the ball straight back into Australian hands.
The second half never truly caught alight, yet Wales managed to edge ahead to a 12-9 lead through the boot of Leigh Halfpenny, and as their defence held strong, it looked like they might do enough to keep Australia out.
A late rally from the visiting side saw Wales on the back foot, when just 40 seconds from full time, messy ball was passed back into the 22 to fly half Rhys Priestland, meaning he couldn’t kick directly to touch. Instead Priestland looked to kick long, hoping to pin Australia back in their own 22 as the seconds ticked down.
Australia as ever looked to counter attack, and with a Welsh side out on their feet they targeted lock Lou Reed and despite Wales chasing back desperately, they managed to attack Wales on the outside to send Kurtly Beale over for the winning try. It was an agonizing stroke for Wales who yet again, for the third time this year, have now been beaten by Australia in the last minute of the match. Matters were made worse to see full back Leigh Halpfenny stay down injured in his last tackle of the game and he was stretchered off with what looked a serious injury.
Nathan Sharpe, playing in his final game for Australia having reached his 116th cap, stepped up to take the kick at goal for the conversion, in a fitting gesture and tribute from his teammates. The Welsh crowd disappointingly showed a distinct lack of grace in booing him, and it seemed a rather unfortunately fitting last act for what has been for Wales, a very dismal Autumn.
Full time: Wales 12 – 14 Australia
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, Liam Williams; Rhys Priestland, Mike Phillips; Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees, Scott Andrews, Lou Reed, Luke Charteris, Aaron Shingler, Sam Warburton (capt), Toby Faletau.
Replacements: Ken Owens, Ryan Bevington, Samson Lee, Ryan Jones, Justin Tipuric, Tavis Knoyle, Dan Biggar, Scott Williams.
Australia: Berrick Barnes, Nick Cummins, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Ben Tapuai, Drew Mitchell, Kurtley Beale, Nick Phipps, Wycliff Palu, David Pocock, Scott Higginbotham, Nathan Sharpe (captain), Kane Douglas, Ben Alexander, Tatafu Polota Nau, Benn Robinson.
Replacements: Stephen Moore, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Dave Dennis, Michael Hooper, Brendan McKibbin, Mike Harris, Digby Ioane.