15. Leigh Halfpenny – 8
A missed conversion on the stroke of half-time was the only blemish on Halfpenny’s brilliant afternoon. Rock-solid under the high-ball and incredibly courageous as the last line of defence, he also made the right calls with ball in hand, hitting the line sumptuously and chipping through to bring Wales agonisingly close to a try. Everyone with the Lions in mind should pray his nasty-looking neck injury is not too serious.
14. Alex Cuthbert – 6
Re-discovered his predatory instincts to give the hosts a cutting edge in the opening exchanges, but waned slightly as the game wore on. Still, strong under the high-ball, which bodes well for the inevitable aerial arm-wrestles that lie in wait during the Six Nations.
13. Jonathan Davies – 6
Won an important turnover with some brawny ruck-work in the first half, set Halfpenny through a gap and was largely untroubled in defence, but may have been at fault for slightly lateral running at the game got looser. Davies remains shy of his best, but not by much.
12. Jamie Roberts – 7½
Finally, the Cardiff Blues bruiser put an entire performance together, proving that his physicality is still tough to deal with, especially on defence. Let Adam Ashley-Cooper through early on, but mauled everything else that went near his channel.
11. Liam Williams – 6½
One of the few Welshmen that seems uninhibited against the best sides, perhaps Williams’ ignorance of the southern hemisphere giants is bliss. However, he manages; the new kid on the block has been very good this autumn, abrasive in all aspects. A nicely-judged punt to the corner displayed admirable nous, too, although it would have hurt to watch attackers flood past him for the clinching try.
10. Rhys Priestland – 5½
Excellent in parts, horrid in others, Priestland’s was a difficult showing to judge. Should definitely be applauded for battling his mental demons to produce moments of magic, notably setting Cuthbert clear twice and harrying after a couple of well-weighted up-and-unders. Lapses are lingering, though, such as some excruciatingly poor passing.
9. Mike Phillips – 5
With David Pocock back in the Wallaby fold, this was a match that Phillips could have influenced, using his frame around the fringes to suck in the Aussie openside. Sadly, the Welsh scrum-half was not at his sharpest, and compounded sluggish service with aimless kicking. Will be furious at failing to see the game out.
1. Gethin Jenkins – 5½
This was only disappointing because of the fading memories of how much Jenkins used to offer in the loose. Buoyed by a return to the starting line-up, he was adequate at set-piece despite a fold close to the start. Unfortunately, though, Toulon has softened a proud Lion.
2. Matthew Rees – 5
It feels quite sad to say this, but Rees’ presence is becoming a hindrance. Disastrous line-outs in crucial attacking areas were a sleight on the former skipper’s composure and he also conceded a soft penalty that allowed Kurtley Beale to open the scoring. Again shown up by a dynamic cameo from Ken Owens, but can be proud of shrugging off a violent hit from Wycliffe Palu.
3. Scott Andrews – 6
Not at all bad from Andrews, especially after Aaron Jarvis’ knee injury had the everybody in the Valleys fretting. Married solidity at scrum-time with a couple of decent rumbles.
4. Lou Reed – 5½
It was a shame Reed coughed up a couple of times. Aside from line-out woes and one clumsy penalty, he was a real handful for the tourists to contain, physicality at the breakdown causing a real nuisance. In trans-hemisphere ties, however, moments of naivety costs you dear.
5. Luke Charteris – 5
Rocked by Scott Higginbotham in one of the first forays of the match, Charteris manfully tried to re-join the fray and carried hard to give Wales a platform. Evidently not healthy enough to continue into the second period and was replaced by the infinitely industrious Ryan Jones.
6. Aaron Shingler – 6
Another good display from a selfless dirty-work merchant, this was encouraging overall, even if a needless penalty saw Beale put Australia 9-6 ahead and he was part of the calamitous line-out.
7. Sam Warburton – 6
It cannot be a fluke that the captain keeps getting on the wrong side of referees. Maybe even too exuberant for his own good, Warburton incurred the wrath of Wayne Barnes at the start, while Pocock timed poaches well. Even so, he remains the man to lead Wales away from this slump, as he showed through immense effort.
8. Toby Faletau – 6½
Clearly intent on an all-action afternoon after limping out of the June Test series in Australia, Faletau did not back out of a bone-crunching tussle with Palu, adding typical tenacity at ruck-time and careering into contact. One of Wales’ most skilful forwards, his link-play is also improving.
Replacements: Ryan Jones was the star here, and disrupted the Wallabies effectively by throwing his weight around. Once more, Ken Owens was an asset, while Justin Tipuric won one vital turnover. Hindsight might have meant giving Tavis Knoyle ten minutes, but we’d all be world champions with that power.
Australia: 15. Berrick Barnes – 5½, 14. Nick Cummins – 4½, 13. Adam Ashley Cooper – 7, 12. Ben Tapuai – 6½, 11. Drew Mitchell – 6, 10. Kurtley Beale – 6, 9. Nick Phipps, 6½, 1. Benn Robinson – 7, 2. Tatafu Palotu-Nau – 5½, 3. Ben Alexander – 6, 4. Kane Douglas – 6, 5. Nathan Sharpe – 7, 6. 7. David Pocock – 7½, 8. Wycliffe Palu – 6½.
Even in mind of their characteristic knack of landing unlikely victories, rarely can Australia have plundered a result from such a disjointed effort. Time and again Robbie Deans’ charges were indebted to their effervescent openside, David Pocock affecting some vital turnovers. Other than that, not much clicked. Adam Ashley-Cooper was typically sparky but inane punts from the boot of Berrick Barnes exposed a side devoid of many real ideas. That a triumph was finally pulled out of the fire said a lot for the Wallabies’ perseverance, a quality defined by one man.
As Nathan Sharpe led Australia out for the final time, he looked to the heavens, seemingly thanking someone upstairs for their help over an 116-cap career. About an hour and three-quarters later, the gnarled lock was lining up a conversion, boos ringing around the Millennium Stadium. He looked up again, this time with a grin. The jeers would have sounded musical, a winning send-off into retirement. That much was absolutely deserved. Congratulations, Sharpie.