|Ben McCalman (C) of the Wallabies celebrates after scoring his team’s second try against Wales [GALLO/GETTY]|
Australia rebounded from their semi-final loss to New Zealand to defeat Wales 21-18 in a frenetic but scrappy third place playoff at Eden Park in New Zealand.
Although Friday’s win was of little consolation to the Wallabies after missing out on Sunday’s final, they did show some occasional glimpses of their ability to run the ball by adopting a more adventurous performance in a match that had little at stake other than ensuring the winner would be seeded third for the next World Cup in 2015.
Australia inside centre Berrick Barnes and number eight Ben McCalman both scored tries while Barnes also added a late drop goal and wing James O’Connor landed a conversion and two rugby penalties.
Wing Shane Williams and fullback Leigh Halfpenny scored tries for Wales, while flyhalf James Hook opened the team’s scoring with a first half penalty. Hook’s replacement Stephen Jones landed a second penalty and a conversion in the last play of the match.
New Zealand play France in Sunday’s final, also at Eden Park, in a repeat of the 1987 decider.
Curtains for Cooper
Australia’s victory was soured by what appeared to be knee injuries to fullback Kurtley Beale, who collided with McCalman, and flyhalf Quade Cooper who shifted direction off his right foot and crumpled immediately to the ground in agony.
Beset by a loss of form and confidence and harassed by hostile crowds, Cooper struggled to express his talent at a tournament which could have been his triumph.
Under slightly less pressure in the playoff, Cooper seemed to have a new spring in his step. Playing more often at first receiver behind a Wallabies pack that was generally going forward, he showed some of his finer passing touches and an ability to bring runners into play.
“You actually come back with a stronger ACL. He’ll be back playing Super rugby but obviously that whole experience and that adversity will challenge him. But no doubt he’ll come out of that stronger for it”
Aussie coach Robbie Deans
But in the 21st minute, carrying the ball in another Australian attack, he changed direction sharply, appeared to step and twist awkwardly and fell to the ground in pain.
The New Zealand fans who had harried Cooper so relentlessly throughout the tournament, booing his every touch of the ball, were suddenly contrite and he left the field to sympathetic applause.
“We don’t have a medical opinion yet but having experienced it myself and having witnessed the event I suspect it’s a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament”, coach Robbie Deans said.
“Quade was okay. He’s aware that it’s a significant injury but with technology these days he’ll come back good to go.
“You actually come back with a stronger ACL. He’ll be back playing Super rugby but obviously that whole experience and that adversity will challenge him. But no doubt he’ll come out of that stronger for it.”