Australia recovered from conceding a first-minute try and twice falling 10 points behind to record their ninth successive win over Wales with a dramatic 30-26 victory at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
The Wallabies scored three tries to two from Wales wing George North, with Australia center Christian Leali’ifano, who crossed the Welsh line, contributing 20 points in all.
This success for Ewen McKenzie’s men was all the more significant given Australia and Wales have been drawn in the same World Cup “group of death” as 2015 hosts England.
And the Wallabies’ tour-ending triumph also meant they had won four Tests in a row for the first time since the opening matches of former coach Robbie Deans’s reign in 2008.
Australia flyhalf Quade Cooper marked his 50th Test with several moments of superb passing skill as the Wallabies fought back to lead 17-16 at the end of a breathless first half.
“As a team, we’re very relieved,” man-of-the-match Cooper told the BBC. “We’ve started to put things together as a team, but Wales kept coming back at us.”
For Six Nations champions Wales, the loss extended their poor run against the southern hemisphere giants of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia to just one win in 23 Tests.
And that was despite coach Warren Gatland’s starting XV containing nine members of the victorious British and Irish Lions squad the New Zealander guided to a 2-1 series win in Australia in July.
Wales made a stunning start after Australia’s Israel Folau made a slicing run into their territory, only to be hauled down by desperate cover defense.
Welsh lock Alun Wyn Jones won turnover ball, which found its way to fellow Lions star North.
The flyer sprinted down the touchline before kicking ahead and, with Adam Ashley-Cooper failing to deal with the loose ball, regathered for a try.
Fullback Leigh Halfpenny, man of the series for the Lions in Australia, landed the tough conversion, before kicking a penalty to leave Wales 10-0 ahead, before Leali’ifano exchanged penalties with the local hero.
However, there was barely time to draw breath in an end-to-end match before Australia hit back with a superbly-crafted score in the 18th minute.
Flanker Michael Hooper won a turnover before Cooper’s back of the hand pass found Joe Tomane, with the wing’s precise inside ball to Leali’ifano sending the center in for a well-worked try, which he converted.
Then, to the collective astonishment of a capacity crowd, Halfpenny saw a penalty-kick come back off the left post.
However, flyhalf Dan Biggar kicked Wales into a 16-10 lead on the half hour after Australia lock James Horwill left his hands in a ruck.
And Australia, in a first half where there was not a single scrum, turned round with a one-point lead, thanks to a try scored soon after Biggar was sin-binned for holding on at the tackle.
Fullback Folau, missed by Mike Phillips when the Wales scrumhalf was too high with his attempted tackle, crossed from close range, despite thumping tackles by North on Ashley-Cooper and hooker Richard Hibbard on skipper Ben Mowen in the build-up.
And Australia had another try in the 48th minute, when Tomane plucked the ball off the ground following a poor pass from Folau.
Referee Wayne Barnes called for replay assistance, but ultimately, the officials decided the final pass had not gone forward — a decision greeted by mass booing.