Australia finished the rugby World Cup on a high with a bruising 21-18 third place play-off win over Wales at Eden Park here on Friday.
The Wallabies battled on after losing star backs Quade Cooper and Kurtley Beale with first-half injuries to edge out the Welsh with magnificent defence after both teams scored two tries each. It was Australia's first win at Eden Park since 1986, but not against its Bledisloe Cup rival New Zealand, which takes on France at its fortress in Sunday's final.
Both teams managed a final effort after shattering semifinal defeats last weekend, the Wallabies going down 20-6 to the All Blacks, while the Welsh lost 9-8 to the French after playing with 14 men for the last hour.
This victory meant two-time champion Australia won its first bronze at the World Cup after losing 22-21 to Wales in the play-off for third place at the inaugural 1987 tournament in New Zealand.
Australia's Berrick Barnes, who shifted into the fly-half slot following Cooper's injury in the 22nd minute, delivered a masterly performance and was named Man-of-the-Match.
New Zealand-born Cooper, who was booed every time he touched the ball, was having one of his better games in an erratic tournament before he collapsed to the ground while running the ball inside the Welsh quarter.
Cooper clutched his right knee and replays showed he'd suffered a hyper-extension while changing direction. The Wallaby fly-half was led from the ground, his tournament over, but this time to applause from the crowd.
Beale also limped out of the game after just nine minutes when he aggravated again a hamstring injury that saw him miss the semifinal and was replaced by Rob Horne.
Earlier, Cooper had set up the opening try in the 12th minute, his pass splitting Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies, and allowing Barnes to stroll over untouched for a 7-0 lead.
Prop James Slipper was penalised in the scrum for James Hook to kick a penalty for Wales. Hook then badly missed an easy penalty attempt five minutes after the re-start.
Australia lock Nathan Sharpe's 100th Test match finished six minutes into the second half interval after he had bravely soldiered on from knee trouble in the opening five minutes and he made way for Rob Simmons. Wales hit the front with a fortuitous try to wing Shane Williams in the 49th minute off what appeared to be a forward pass from Hook but English referee Wayne Barnes waved play on. Hook's pass was toed ahead by Williams who gathered again to dot down in the left corner.
But the Wallabies hit back with two quick O'Connor penalties to lead by five points as the Welsh found it difficult to breach the resolute Australian defence.
Barnes, running the show for the Wallabies, potted a drop goal to put his team 16-8 ahead with 12 minutes left. Substitute fly-half Stephen Jones kept Wales alive with a 71st-minute penalty.
But the Wallabies finished the better with No. 8 Ben McCalman surging over for their second try four minutes from time. Wales gave its supporters a rousing finish with a converted try to full-back Leigh Halfpenny in injury time after 32 phases on the Australian line, but all it did was reduce the Wallabies' victory margin.
The result: Third place play-off: Australia 21 (Tries - Barnes, McCalman; Conversion - O'Connor; Penalties – O'Connor (2); Drop-goal - Barnes) bt Wales 18 (Tries - S. Williams, Halfpenny; Conversion - S. Jones; Penalties - Hook, S. Jones).
Keywords: Rugby World Cup