Australia finishes its Autumn International schedule on a high in Cardiff.
Australia coach Ewen McKenzie said the Wallabies’ latest victory over Wales proved it was possible to win Tests by playing their traditional attacking game.
Australia rounded off a gruelling 2013, that saw them lose eight out of 15 Tests, with a flourish as they beat Wales 30-26 in a free-flowing match at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
Australia, with fly-half Quade Cooper pulling the strings in his 50th Test, scored three tries through centre Christian Leali’ifano, full-back Israel Folau and wing Joe Tomane, with Leali’ifano also kicking 15 points.
Wales managed two tries of their own through George North, one of the stars of the British and Irish Lions 2-1 series win in Australia earlier this year.
But the wing’s scores weren’t enough to tip the balance in a see-saw contest where McKenzie’s men were twice 10 points behind and then led 30-16, only for Wales to rally late on.
Australia’s ninth successive win over Wales was all the more significant given the two countries have been paired in the same World Cup ‘group of death’ as 2015 hosts England.
And McKenzie, appointed after former coach Robbie Deans was axed following the Lions series, hoped the victory would foster a mood of optimism throughout Australian rugby.
“The Wallabies don’t play for another seven months now so hopefully the fans will look forward to what’s happening next year rather than spending too much time looking at the past,” said former prop McKenzie, a member of Australia’s 1991 World Cup-winning team.
“We pushed a few too many passes at times but it’s always a balance — you don’t want to be telling people not to do things but they’ve got to be judicious in their decision-making. It’s risk-reward.”
He added: “We probably pushed the risk a little bit at times but there’s some enthusiasm and I don’t want to dull that down.
“A lot of people say you can’t play all the rugby, it’s easier to play field position and keep it simple.
“We are trying to make sure that’s in our back pocket if we have to (use it) but it’s the variety between the two that’s important.”
Australia suffered five defeats in all this year at the hands of world champions New Zealand and South Africa, clearly the second-best Test side on current form, and questions persist as to whether Australia’s preferred running game can succeed against the All Blacks and the Springboks come the World Cup.
But after an end-of-year tour where Australia won four Tests in a row — something they last managed at the start of the Deans era in 2008 — with only a defeat by England in the opener scuppering a Grand Slam, McKenzie was in a bullish frame of mind.
“We scored a bunch of tries against good teams. People are always going to say ‘wait until you play the All Blacks, wait until you play the Springboks’ and for sure we’ve got to do better on that side of things.
“But the last time we played the All Blacks we did all right. We didn’t win but we were close (a 43-31 loss in Dunedin in October).
“We just have to keep at it. We don’t want to be the finished article right now. We’ve improved and we’re getting more consistent.”