LONDON, 10 Oct - Fly-half Bernard Foley kicked five penalties to help Australia win Pool A with a 15-6 defeat of Wales but the victory was secured by a formidable period of defending in the second half when the Wallabies were reduced to 13 men.
Foley, who scored 28 points in Australia's 33-13 defeat of England last weekend, showed composure again with the boot. But the real victory came when the Wallabies were under intense Wales pressure after the sin-binning of scrum-half Will Genia and second-row Dean Mumm mid-way through the second half.
Wales, who had scored six points through the boot of fly-half Dan Biggar in the first half, decided against kicking more penalties and kept running at the Wallabies in search of a try. But Australia’s organised and resolute defence helped the twice World Cup winners hang on to their slim 12-6 lead.
A fifth Foley penalty then steered the Wallabies towards a quarter-final with Pool B runners-up Scotland at Twickenham on Sunday 18 October. Wales will now take on Pool B winners South Africa in the last eight on Saturday 17 October, also at Twickenham.
"It was a different type of game and we had to show a different skin," Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said. "We don't want to do it again. We won't get away with it at this level too many times. I was very proud of the lad."
Last weekend, Foley ran through the England backs for two tries as well as produce a cool display of goalkicking, but the defeat of Wales was of a completely different character. The Wallabies had few opportunities to run their back line moves and spent most of the match in stubborn defence against a surging Welsh team.
Cynical play got the Wallabies into trouble when Genia was sin-binned in the 57th minute for stopping Wales taking a quick penalty before Mumm was also shown a yellow card three minutes later for stopping the Welsh from getting the ball away quickly from a breakdown.
With influential number eight David Pocock also limping off the field, the Wallabies' 10-game winning streak over the Welsh looked in serious danger.
But Wales decided against kicking their penalties and looked to score through drives off the back of line-outs. The tactic failed and Wales's only real try-scoring opportunity came when centre George North was held up over the line near the corner flag by replacement Ben McCalman in the 62nd minute.
Asked about his decision not to kick penalties but go for a try, Wales captain Sam Warburton said: "We felt we needed a try to beat Australia. We were six points behind and two penalties would have brought us to a draw. Any country would have backed themselves to go over.
"You have to put your hands up and say they defended really well. At least I can sit here with no regrets. I thought we got extremely close a few times and backed ourselves to go for the corner."
Wales had also dominated the first 20 minutes of the game in territorial terms and North, playing in the centre rather than in his usual wing position, was also held up on the line near the left corner flag as early as the second minute.
But Foley’s three penalties to Biggar's two gave the Wallabies a 9-6 lead at half-time. Foley, who slotted over a penalty kick early in the second half, stepped up again with a key penalty 10 minutes from the end.
Wales lost winger Alex Cuthbert to the sin bin just afterwards for a deliberate knock-on but it did not affect the outcome as Australia's defence had already sealed the victory.