Autumn internationals: Australia edge Wales in Cardiff thriller
Wales (16) 26
- North 2
- Halfpenny, Biggar
- Halfpenny 2, Biggar, Priestland
AUSTRALIA (17) 30
- Leali'ifano, Folau, Tomane
- Leali'ifano 3
- Leali'ifano 3
Wales' inability to translate Six Nations dominance into victories over the southern hemisphere superpowers continued as they suffered a ninth successive defeat against Australia in a pulsating finale to the autumn series in Cardiff.
An early George North try and two Leigh Halfpenny penalties saw the hosts lead 13-3, but Australia's attacking brilliance brought scores for Christian Leali'ifano and Israel Folau before the interval.
A third try for Joe Tomane stretched the visitors' lead to 30-16 before North's second try and a Rhys Priestland penalty gave Wales hope of snatching victory.
But Australia, despite losing fly-half Quade Cooper to the sin-bin for the final five minutes, kept the hosts at bay.
In doing so they inflicted a 22nd defeat in 23 Tests on Wales against the Sanzar nations (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia) during coach Warren Gatland's tenure, and an 18th consecutive loss against the big three since they beat the Wallabies in 2008 at the end of his first year in charge.
If the margins are small - Wales' previous three defeats by Australia were by a combined total of five points - their continued inability to bridge the gap to the world's best teams remains a huge source of frustration.
Here they encountered a potent Wallabies side who underlined their improvement under new coach Ewen McKenzie with a fourth straight win in their 15th Test of a marathon year.
An explosive start saw Wales almost concede a try inside the first minute, when the outstanding Cooper released Folau through a gap, only to promptly race away and score themselves at the other end.
Lock Alun Wyn Jones won a vital turnover, centre Scott Williams shipped the ball swiftly left to North, who sprinted 30 metres and then chipped ahead up the left touchline.
The retreating Adam Ashley-Cooper, attempting to reach down and pick up a low bouncing ball, only succeeded in diverting it towards his own tryline with his foot where North got to it first to touch down in the left corner.
Halfpenny converted from the touchline, added a penalty for a 10-0 lead in the 11th minute and restored the 10-point advantage when Leali'ifano got Australia off the mark with a penalty.
But despite their positive start, the Welsh foundations were shaky. Their defence was breached far too easily, and their inability to control their own line-out ball, losing four of their own throws in the first half, handed Australia possession and territory.
With plenty of ball to work with, Cooper was allowed to give free rein to his unique talents, creating the first Wallabies try with a sublime piece of skill.
After the excellent Michael Hooper won a turnover, Cooper looped around Ashley-Cooper before a wonderful offload out the back of his hand to right wing Tomane, whose inside pass released Leali'ifano to score.
The inside centre converted to make it 13-10, but Halfpenny missed a chance - only his second failure in his last 20 attempts - to extend Wales' lead when a further penalty attempt came back off an upright.
The full-back, after taking a knock to the hip, then relinquished the goalkicking duties to Dan Biggar, who landed a penalty to make it 16-10.
But the Wallabies oozed attacking menace, Cooper repeating his earlier trick after standing up Sam Warburton and then releasing another sublime pass to Tomane.
This time Wales were grateful for the retreating Ian Evans, who intercepted Leali'ifano's inside pass metres from the line, and then Scott Williams for hauling down Folau.
But Biggar was sin-binned for killing the ball at the ruck, and Folau was not to be denied moments later, barging through Mike Phillips's tackle from close range after huge hits from North and Richard Hibbard.
Leali'ifano's conversion put Australia ahead at the interval, and there was no let-up from the Wallabies on the resumption.
Hooper charged deep into the heart of the Welsh defence, who fell offside to give Leali'ifano a simple penalty in front of the posts.
He added another after 52 minutes to make it 30-16 after Tomane had scored the visitors' third try with a delicate dab-down in the right corner. If there was a hint of a forward pass from Folau, the replays were inconclusive.
Wales, staring into the abyss, rallied impressively. Replacement Liam Williams, on for namesake Owen, was released down the left wing and cut inside to within metres of the line, but Australia won a penalty at the breakdown.
Moments later though North - switched to centre for the final half-hour - charged onto Biggar's pass through James Horwill's attempted tackle and inside Will Genia with a devastating step and burst of speed to dot down under the posts.
Biggar's conversion was a formality, and a penalty from replacement fly-half Priestland with 11 minutes left made it a four-point game as the crowd roared their approval.
Cooper, attempting to push Australia two scores ahead again, made a woeful hash of a drop-goal and was then yellow-carded after the TMO adjudged he had held back Scott Williams as he attempted to claim Justin Tipuric's pass.
But that, despite a harum-scarum final flurry, was as close as Wales got. Their southern hemisphere hoodoo continues.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, Owen Williams, Scott Williams, George North, Dan Biggar, Mike Phillips; Gethin Jenkins, Richard Hibbard, Rhodri Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Ian Evans, Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton (capt), Toby Faletau.
Replacements: Ken Owens (for Hibbard, 63), Ryan Bevington (for Jenkins, 41), Samson Lee (for Rhodri Jones, 67), Ryan Jones, Justin Tipuric (for Lydiate, 63), Rhodri Williams (for Phillips, 72), Rhys Priestland (for Biggar, 63) , Liam Williams (for Owen Williams, 50).
Australia: Israel Folau; Joe Tomane, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Christian Leali'lifano, Nick Cummins; Quade Cooper, Will Genia; James Slipper, Stephen Moore, Sekope Kepu, Rob Simmons, James Horwill, Scott Fardy, Michael Hooper, Ben Mowen (capt).
Replacements: Tatafu Polota Nau (for Moore, 70), Benn Robinson (for Slipper, 63), Ben Alexander (for Kepu, 55), Kane Douglas (for Horwill, 60), Dave Dennis (for Mowen, 70), Nic White, Mike Harris (for Leali'ifano, 62), Bernard Foley (for Tomane, 75)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)