Wales hold off Australia to edge Rugby World Cup thriller

Wales' Justin Tipuric in action with Australia's Michael Hooper. (Reuters)
Updated 29 September 2019

Wales hold off Australia to edge Rugby World Cup thriller

  • The Welsh were 23-8 ahead at half-time but they had to withstand a furious second-half onslaught
  • Australia captain Michael Hooper said the game 'came down to the wire'

TOKYO: Six Nations champions Wales took a massive step toward topping Pool D with a thrilling 29-25 victory over valiant Australia in the Rugby World Cup on Sunday.
The Welsh were 23-8 ahead at half-time but they had to withstand a furious second-half onslaught when Australia fought back to within a point late in the game.
Wales, 43-14 winners over Georgia in their opener, will now be confident of finishing their pool unbeaten, with their next opponents Fiji in Oita on October 9 before taking on Uruguay in Kumamoto four days later.
“Relief at the moment,” said Wales coach Warren Gatland, when asked what he was feeling after the match. “Tough second half but the boys pulled through.
“It was a tough Test match. Very pleased with the first half. We didn’t have a lot of ball in the second half and Australia kept coming at us and putting us under a huge amount of pressure. But we were able to hold on thankfully.”
Australia captain Michael Hooper said the game “came down to the wire.”
“Some big calls there. Some went our way, some didn’t,” said Hooper.
“We’ve got to pick ourselves back up. We’ll review it. Probably right now recovery’s key. We’ve got a six day turnaround. This sort of format, competition, you’ve got to move on pretty quick.”
An electric game full of enterprising, interlinking play from both sides on a balmy late afternoon in the Japanese capital made for a marvellous spectacle of running rugby.
The 47,885-strong crowd had barely taken their seats after the anthems when Wales were on the scoreboard.
The ubiquitous Aaron Wainwright turned over esteemed Wallaby jackler Michael Hooper from the kick-off, Gareth Davies finding Dan Biggar in the box for a straightforward drop-goal with just 37 seconds on the clock.
Biggar went wide on his first penalty attempt minutes later as Wales continued to attack with fluidity, George North being brought down with the line begging.
The largely red and yellow crowd at Tokyo Stadium traded respective ballads, ‘Hymns and Arias’ for ‘Waltzing Matilda’ with mutual applause for both renditions. A hearty round of collective boos, however, rang out when an image of England coach Eddie Jones was shown on the big screen.
Biggar spurned a second shot at goal as Wales looked to build on their momentum.
The ball was quickly recycled from the attacking line-out, Biggar putting in an inch-perfect crosskick that Hadleigh Parkes gathered, the Kiwi-born center outleaping Marika Koroibete and spinning past Dane Haylett-Petty to dot down in the corner.
The Welsh fly-half hit the extras but saw a second, long-range drop-goal go wide.
Hooper escaped punishment for a late, high hit on Biggar, French referee Romain Poite deciding a penalty was sufficient.
Wales lost their throw-in from the kick, handing Australia the chance to fire back down the pitch, a Parkes tackle on opposite number Samu Kerevi preventing a sure try.
The Wallaby forward arrived en masse, and with the Welsh defense scrambling, Bernard Foley cross-kicked perfectly to veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper, the winger stepping inside Josh Adams with aplomb to scramble over for a deserved try.
Foley scuffed the conversion, but with both sides more than willing to throw the ball around, it didn’t seem to matter.
Biggar bundled Serevi into touch after the strapping Fiji-born center had two-stepped around Jonathan Davies, but the fly-half paid for that defensive showing by being subbed off with a head injury, replaced by Rhys Patchell.
Foley and Patchell traded penalties before Gareth Davies pounced to intercept a deep pass from a stuttering Will Genia to sprint home from 60 meters.
Patchell converted to make it 23-8 at half-time and dropped a goal four minutes into the second period as Wales looked to turn the screw.
Australia were far from done, however, David Pocock providing the perfect offload for Dane Haylett-Petty to score the Wallabies’ second try, Matt Toomua converting.
The Welsh defense, built around No 8 Josh Navidi and skipper Alun Wyn Jones, winning a Wales-record 130th cap, could only hold firm for so long as Australia proceeded to camp out in their 22m area with a series of set-pieces, Hooper eventually being driven for an invaluable try Toomua converted.
Games between the two sides are traditionally tight and so it again proved, Toomua hitting a 69th-minute penalty to reduce Wales’ lead to just one point.
Patchell responded in kind, Tomos Williams kept an Australian kick to touch in play and Wales saw out a tense final five minutes to set themselves up as likely Pool D winners.

Southgate to bring Sterling back from England exile

Updated 17 November 2019

Southgate to bring Sterling back from England exile

  • World Cup semifinalists ‘still have room for improvement as they chase first major title since 1966’

PRISTINA:  Gareth Southgate is set to bring Raheem Sterling back from his brief England exile in Sunday’s qualifier against Kosovo as he seeks to end the controversy over the Manchester City star’s row with Joe Gomez.

Sterling was dropped for Thursday’s 7-0 rout of Montenegro after clashing with England team-mate Gomez in the Three Lions’ training base canteen.

It is believed Sterling was unhappy with Gomez following an altercation with the Liverpool defender during City’s Premier League defeat at Anfield last weekend.

Although Sterling was left out of the Montenegro game as punishment for his attack on Gomez, Southgate has confirmed the winger will return for England’s final Group A fixture.

Sterling and Gomez, left with a scratch under his eye after the incident, are said to have patched up their relationship, but the center-back was jeered by England fans at Wembley when he came on as a substitute against Montenegro.

Both Southgate and Sterling expressed their support for Gomez and criticized the booing supporters, with the England manager reportedly comforting the shocked 22-year-old and his family after the match.

Now Southgate could include Gomez against Kosovo in a show of support for the Liverpool player.

With England already guaranteed to qualify for Euro 2020 in first place in their group, Southgate already planned to make changes, although he is keen to ensure England finish with a win as they eye a top-six seeding in next year’s tournament.

“We will make some changes, for sure, but the seeding in the group could be critical and we know it’s a big night for the Kosovans,” Southgate said.

“It’s a shame for them that they’re now out of this part of the qualification, although they’ve still got the playoffs in which I think they’ll be a huge threat in that format. “So, it will be a good test for us because it will still be a lively environment.

“The enthusiasm for the game is high and we want to finish the group with as many points as we can.”

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson could return following a one-match ban, while Southgate has to decide whether to keep faith with Ben Chilwell ahead of Danny Rose at left-back.

Harry Kane may have scored a hat-trick against Montenegro but it was Leicester’s Chilwell who was named England’s man of the match following a fine display in which he provided three assists in the opening 24 minutes.

“Ben, I liked the hunger in his game, the enthusiasm to get forward,” Southgate said.

“The whole team pressed well but he also pressed well from that full-back position, got into overlaps, his quality of delivery was excellent.”

Although England have cruised through their qualifying group, Southgate believes the 2018 World Cup semifinalists still have room for improvement as they chase a first major title since 1966.

“There were a couple of chances we conceded that just shouldn’t happen, so that’s still part of our game that we’ve got to improve upon,” he said.

“If we are to be a team that are going to challenge seriously, although we’re young, we’ve got to manage games well.

“We’ve got to make sure that, although we’re such a fantastic attacking threat, the rest of the team is right as well. There are things we’ve got to be better at.”