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Wallabies deal to Wales 21-18 to win RWC bronze

Updated: October 21, 2011, 05:49

AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) Australia overcame early injuries to star backs Quade Cooper and Kurtley Beale to beat Wales 21-18 in the Rugby World Cup third-place playoff Friday and finally end a 25-year losing streak at Eden Park.

The playoff for bronze was always about who could switch back on mentally after their semifinals disappointments, and the Wallabies rebounded superbly. Their vaunted backline was back to its flashy best in the first half, but after more injuries in a campaign plagued by them, they relied on grit and a ball-jolting defense to win.

The result flattered the Welsh and left them doubly disappointed after narrowly losing to France with 14 men in the semifinals. The Welsh failed to prove they would have been worthy finalists, needing a try from a forward pass to grab a brief lead in the second half, and matching the Wallabies with a second try only deep in injury time.

The difference was made up by the goalkicking. James O'Connor landed three from six attempts, and Berrick Barnes added an insurance dropped goal that made it 16-8 with 12 minutes to go.

In contrast, Wales flyhalf James Hook knocked over only one from three attempts, and the venerable Stephen Jones added a late penalty and conversion to Leigh Halfpenny's last-gasp try when the result was already certain.

The result reversed the outcome of the corresponding fixture at the inaugural World Cup in 1987.

Australia's intent and determination was clear from the kickoff, when it ran the ball at Wales for the first minute and a half. Cooper skipped to the line and directed the attack but he bombed the Wallabies' first real chance, after scrumhalf Will Genia tapped a penalty five meters from the Welsh line. Cooper's rushed pass inside went straight to Adam Ashley-Cooper's knee. That was also the end of Beale, who had missed the semifinals with a hamstring strain only for it to recur just 10 minutes in.

The scrum, the perceived weakness of the Wallabies who were fielding an all-new frontrow, was a surprising force when it focused. From an attacking shove, swift passes fed Barnes, who burst into a gap and easily slipped through the line and around behind the posts in the 12th. O'Connor converted for 7-0

Finally given ball and space to play with after being starved in the quarterfinals and semifinals, the Australian backs showed off the attacking verve they're noted for, with Cooper their maestro. It all changed in the 21st when, with ball in hand, he suddenly fell in front of the defense, painfully clutching his right hamstring. At that point he had passed the ball 17 times, taken a high ball with aplomb and expertly kicked for touch. He deserved the warm ovation he received limping off Eden Park.

Wales had cut the deficit to four with a Hook penalty, then the Wallabies obliterated the Welsh scrum to earn a penalty in the 28th, but O'Connor's effort from 40 meters rebounded off the right post.

Wales received two more penalty attempts straddling the interval, but Leigh Halfpenny missed from distance, while Hook somehow hooked one from just outside the 22.

Hook needed help in another average game, but he shouldn't have got it from referee Wayne Barnes, who missed Hook's pass along the ground that was at least two meters forward. Winger Shane Williams kicked the ball on, picked it up and dived over for the 59th try of a glittering career. Hook couldn't convert from the sideline but Wales led 8-7.

Justice took only five more minutes to arrive when O'Connor regained the lead from a 43-meter penalty, conceded by Paul James in a ruck. O'Connor extended the lead by three with a 35-meter shot three minutes later, but came up well short from 45 meters in the 67th.

Barnes added his dropped goal, and Ashley-Cooper was denied a try by Wales winger George North. But sustained Australian pressure was rewarded with a try to No. 8 Ben McCalman in the 76th.

Wales didn't fade, however, as it worked the ball until Australia ran out of defenders and Halfpenny had an easy run in, three minutes into injury time for a try converted by Stephen Jones.

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