Barnes steps up as Australia claim bronze
AUCKLAND, 21 Oct. - A reshuffled Australia backline expertly overcame the shock of losing full back Kurtley Beale and fly half Quade Cooper to injury and led their team to a 21-18 win in the Bronze Final.
Taking centre stage in a composed effort at Eden Park on Friday was Berrick Barnes, who has spent most of Australia’s World Cup campaign on the bench.
With Cooper hobbling off with a serious knee injury in the 22nd minute, the inside centre suddenly found himself at the helm of the Wallabies back line and turned in a man-of-the-match performance that included a try, timely drop goal and an array of deft kicks for field position.
It must have felt like history repeating for Barnes, who made his second appearance for Australia in a RWC 2007 match against Wales, filling in at fly half for the injured Stephen Larkham.
By comparison Wales fly half James Hook appeared out of sorts and missed a couple of early penalties before being replaced by Stephen Jones in the 51st minute.
With Beale also having succumbed to his troublesome hamstring, the improvised Australian backline comprised replacements Rob Horne at inside centre and Anthony Faingaa at outside centre, and Adam Ashley-Cooper, who shifted to full back.
Despite the disruption, the Wallabies enjoyed the bulk of field position, courtesy of a thoughtful kicking game that constantly sent Wales scurrying back into their 22.
Most noticeable was the absence of the midfield high balls that undermined their efforts against New Zealand in last week’s semi-final.
However, the strategy of kicking deep meant the Wallabies were forced to spend 60 per cent of the match in defence and they racked up 146 tackles to the 74 that were made by Wales.
Yet the Australians displayed the dogged determination without the ball that got them through their quarter-final against South Africa.
The forwards constantly imposed themselves in the tackle, the wide men rushed up effectively when outnumbered and the team did not miss a tackle in the second half as they closed out the match.
Wales did not help their own cause by making 12 handling errors, including one pass on a promising attack that ended up in the hands of the linesman rather than wing Shane Williams.
The new-look Wallabies front-row stood up to the challenge posed by their more experienced opponents and earned several scrum penalties, as well as ensuring the Welsh had to play with unsettled ball.
The breakdown was more of a torrid affair, with both sides passionately throwing themselves into the fray, but Australia flanker David Pocock once again showed his class by earning a couple of crucial penalties.
Wales full back Leigh Halfpenny may have had the final say with a converted try to finish the match, but the night belonged to Wallaby second row Nathan Sharpe, who was carried from the field by his exhausted teammates.
The 100-cap veteran inspired a brave Australian performance worthy of his impressive milestone.