Australia defeated Wales 21-18 to secure third place at the Rugby World Cup and avoid three losses at the four-yearly championship for the first time.
Berrick Barnes scored a try and kicked a drop goal in the rematch of the 1987 third-place playoff at Auckland’s Eden Park as the Wallabies rebounded from their 20-6 semifinal loss to New Zealand. Ben McCalman scored Australia’s other try, while James O’Connor booted two penalties and a conversion.
“We made the best out of a bad situation by coming third,” Australia captain James Horwill said. “We go home with our heads held high.”
After also losing to Ireland in a Sept. 17 pool match, coach Robbie Deans’s squad had faced the prospect of becoming the first Wallabies team to come away from a World Cup tournament with three defeats. Australia won the tournament in 1991 and 1999.
Wales, which got tries through Shane Williams and Leigh Halfpenny, had been trying to match its third place at the inaugural tournament in 1987. The Welsh lost 9-8 to France in the semifinals after captain Sam Warburton was shown a red card for a dangerous tackle that left his team a man down for more than an hour.
“To get to the semis is a great achievement for this group,” said Wales stand-in captain Gethin Jenkins. “We talked about creating history but to come fourth is still an improvement on where we’ve been in the past couple of World Cups.”
New Zealand faces France at Eden Park in two days in a repeat of the 1987 final, which the top-ranked All Blacks won for their only World Cup title.
The home team takes a 26-match winning run at the Auckland stadium into the final. France was the last team to beat the All Blacks there in July 1994.
Australia lost full-back Kurtley Beale and fly-half Quade Cooper to injuries in the opening 22 minutes. Beale aggravated a hamstring that kept him out of the semifinals before New Zealand-born Cooper, who had been jeered throughout the tournament, injured his knee while trying a side step. He was given an ovation by the crowd as he limped off the pitch and again when he appeared at the medal presentation on crutches.
Cooper has a suspected ruptured anterior cruciate ligament, Deans said at a press conference.
“He’s aware that it’s a significant injury,” Deans said. “With technology these days he’ll come back good to go. He’ll be back playing Super Rugby but obviously that whole experience and adversity will challenge him. I’ve got no doubt he’ll come out of that stronger for it.”
The Wallabies had led 7-3 at half time through Barnes’s 12th-minute try that was converted by O’Connor. James Hook got Wales on the scoreboard with a penalty seven minutes later.
“We played pretty good territorially and that helped us a lot,” Barnes said in a televised interview. “That is something we did not do last week against the All Blacks and on the back of that we got the win tonight.”
Wales went ahead for the first time in the 49th minute. Winger Williams controlled a low pass that appeared to be forward with his instep, kicked on with his left foot, before picking up the ball and diving over the line. Hook missed the conversion.
O’Connor then booted two penalties in four minutes to put the Wallabies ahead by five points with 23 minutes remaining and Barnes added a drop goal from 30 meters to make it 16-8.
Jones, on as a replacement for Hook, cut the gap to five points with a penalty before No. 8 McCalman touched down with four minutes to go to take Australia’s lead out to 21-11.
Wales kept the ball alive to complete the scoring as Halfpenny found himself in space to cross for a try that Jones converted to end the game.
Wales’s three losses at the tournament were by a combined total of five points.
“At this level you’ve got to take your opportunities,” Wales coach Warren Gatland told reporters. “Unfortunately on these big occasions our goal-kicking has let us down.”