TThe Wallabies have pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in Australia’s rich rugby history, storming home late to stun Wales 39-34 in their season-ending Test in Cardiff.
Wales led 34-13 with 23 minutes to play before youngsters Mark Nawaqanitawase and Lachlan Lonergan sparked an epic turnaround to put a positive finish on a difficult year.
Breakout winger Nawaqanitawase scored two tries while back-up hooker Lonergan grabbed the match-winning score and then the decisive turnover to break the hosts.
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Lonergan scores match-winning try
The Wallabies finish the Autumn Nations Series with a 2-3 record with all five matches compelling and frustrating in equal measure.
“We’ve had so many tight losses so to seal one at the end like that is hugely satisfying,” Wallabies coach Dave Rennie told Andrew Mehrtens on Stan Sport’s coverage.
“We got great impact off the bench and we put them on pretty early because we were struggling early. So they were fantastic.
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Nawaqanitawase burns Welsh defence
“When you’re down by as much as we were it’s hugely satisfying. We’ve got an unbelievable group of excellent people. We’re going to get to celebrate.”
Wales gifted the Australians a way back in when captain Justin Tipuric was yellow carded for tripping Pete Samu after an interception.
The Wallabies were smart enough to expose Tipuric’s absence when Nawaqanitawase scored off a lineout ball.
Wallabies hooker crashes over
Then the Wallabies forwards earned a penalty try from a rolling maul and they were trailing only 34-32 with six long minutes to go.
Moreover, Wales was reduced to 13 players as replacement hooker Ryan Elias was yellow carded for collapsing the maul.
Australia made it count.
Gleeson rocks Wales in first start
Nawaqanitawase’s break had support, Wales halfback Kieran Hardy intercepted a last pass but knocked it forward, and Lonergan regrouped and ran in for the winning try, his first in Test rugby, in the 78th minute.
Australia has also lost nine Tests this year but completed a grueling, injury-riddled, tour of Europe with a win for the first time in nine years.
“That was massive,” Mehrtens said.
“Australia will still look at how they allowed the Welsh forwards to get on top but this was one of the best performances of the northern series. Good execution, good composure and decision making.”
The teams are due to meet in the Rugby World Cup pool stage next September, but if the Wallabies are at full strength, only five or six from the starting side in Cardiff ought to start in Lyon.
Australia didn’t have the likes of heavy hitters Michael Hooper, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Rob Valetini, Nic White, Taniela Tupou, Bernard Foley or Tom Banks.
Five-eighth Ben Donaldson, who missed the last gasp conversion to beat Italy, and No.8 Langi Gleeson, started a Test for the first time.
“Us boys had a lot of belief,” Nawaqanitawase told Stan Sport.
“There were a few things in the first half that let us down, but we showed a lot of courage and character to come back and win.
“We’ve only lost by a point against the top teams. Don’t lose faith in us – we’ve got a strong team and back ourselves.”
Despite racking up their most points against Australia, the Welsh managed the last quarter badly and their ninth loss in 12 Tests gave them their worst calendar year since 2010.
The results had already put the future of coach Wayne Pivac in doubt before the latest heartbreaking loss.
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