In Depth

Rugby World Cup: what Wales’s win over Australia means for the quarter-finals

With Wales now likely to top pool D Australia could face a potential last-eight clash against England

Wales beat Australia 29-25 in a Rugby World Cup thriller on Sunday. If rugby fans thought life couldn’t get any better after Japan’s breathtaking defeat of Ireland 24 hours earlier, Wales and the Wallabies then served up a classic in Tokyo.

Warren Gatland’s Wales side bossed the first half, establishing a 23-8 lead at half-time thanks to tries from Hadleigh Parkes and the outstanding Gareth Davies. In reply, Adam Ashley-Cooper touched down for Australia. 

They were the most points that Wales have scored in a single half against Australia in 111 years of matches. 

Fightback

But back came the Aussies after the break with tries from Dane Haylett-Petty and Michael Hooper to reduce the lead to 26-25. 

Rhys Patchell, on at fly-half for Dan Biggar, who left the field with possible concussion, then coolly kicked a penalty on 72 minutes and Wales were able to withstand some desperate Australia attacks in the closing stages.

England vs. the Aussies?

The result means Wales lead pool D by three points and assuming they beat Fiji on 9 October and Uruguay on 13 October they’ll have the easier route towards the final. 

If England beat Argentina on Saturday and also France seven days later they will top pool C and face Australia in the quarter-finals, that is providing the Wallabies win their remaining pool D games against Georgia and Uruguay. 

The winner will, in all likelihood, face defending champions New Zealand in the last four.

Welsh have an easier route

Wales’s victory means that they probably play the runner-up in pool C, which is likely to be France, and if they beat Les Bleus almost certainly they will take on South Africa in the semi-final. 

Should England finish second in pool C they will play Wales in the quarter-final and avoid a likely semi-final with New Zealand in the semi-final.

Frightening physicality

England head coach Eddie Jones and his assistants were at the Tokyo Stadium to reconnoitre their potential opponents and they will have been mightily impressed by what they saw. 

In a game of high intensity and bone-crunching physicality, both sides played with precision and ambition, mixing up deft offloads with pin-point cross-field kicks. 

Wales were particularly inventive, dropping two goals for six points which, ultimately, made the difference between the two sides, as did their 12 turnovers, an area in which few sides can match them.

Embarrassed

The match wasn’t without its controversy, however, with Australia bemused by referee Romain Poite’s decision to penalise centre Samu Kerevi for absorbing a high tackle from Rhys Patchell with his forearm so to prevent a clash of heads. 

Captain Michael Cooper queried the decision at the time, telling Poite that it was Patchell’s upright tackle technique that was to blame. 

Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika let rip in the post-match press conference, blasting: “As a former rugby player, I am embarrassed about it… You’ve got to take care, you’ve got to look after players, but not to an extreme where you’re looking after players just for doctors and lawyers.”

Going soft or being safe?

Kerevi expressed his surprise at being sanctioned, and warned the powers-that-be they have to remember that rugby is first and foremost a collision sport. 

“I respect the referee’s decision and I understand the pressure they are under,” he said. “But is there a ruling on the way we are meant to run? Players understand that rugby is a collision sport… you have a split second in which to react. 

“I want to be physical because rugby is a tough sport. We put our bodies on the line. We know there are things you cannot do and that safety is important, but I really do not know what else I could have done in that challenge on Sunday. 

“I might just as well avoid the contact, but that is not my game and I do not want it to become soft.” 

Battered

In contrast, the mood in the Wales camp was ebullient with head coach Gatland declaring it a “pretty special match”.

He continued: “The boys are battered in the changing room. It was a real tight match and those are the ones that we have lost in the past.”

Australia’s most potent attacking weapon was the powerful running of Kerevi, while Isi Naisarani, their bruising No.8, also carried well in the second half. 

If England and Australia do meet in the last eight, the earth will shake when Manu Tuilagi and Billy Vunipola lock horns with their Australian opposite numbers.

Reactions to Wales’s wonderful win

Wales head coach Warren Gatland

“This is a squad that has grown up in terms of their game management. That’s improved significantly. But we’ve only won two games and we need to make sure we do a job in the other games.” 

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones on kissing George North

“We were obviously excited at the end and you share those moments with players. Not always like that but it is what it is… I think his wife is safe.”

Australia head coach Michael Cheika

“It was a tight contest, that’s the way it goes sometimes. I am not thinking about the rest of the tournament right now, we’ll think about that later.” 

Owen Slot, The Times

“It was the maturity with which they saw out those final minutes that told of the heart and substance of this Wales, and suggested that their [Six Nations] grand slam in March was not necessarily their peak but perhaps a stepping stone to something else.” 

Paul Cully, Sydney Morning Herald 

“Don’t bank on England being the Wallabies’ quarter-final opponents. It’s a volatile tournament and both Argentina and France have the ability to put England under pressure – and we just don’t know how they’ll react when the heat rise.”

Today’s back pages

Dina’s silver lining, Wales win, Wallabies whine

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