A Quade Cooper-inspired Australia have ended a difficult year with an entertaining 30-26 win over Wales in the final November international in Cardiff.
In a season which saw the Wallabies lose to the British and Irish Lions, struggle in the Rugby Championship, sack coach Robbie Deans and suffer from ill-discipline off the field, they finished on a high on Saturday, as they look to build for the 2015 World Cup.
Led by strong performances from flyhalf Cooper and fullback Israel Folau, the visitors shrugged off an early try by Welsh wing George North to register a narrow victory, which included 20 points for centre Christian Lealiifano.
Lealiifano, Folau and Joe Tomane scored tries for the Wallabies, while North added his second as Wales recovered from 30-16 down to get agonisingly close to victory.
The result also meant Australia extended their winning streak over Wales to nine matches, an important boost as the two sides are due to meet in the pool stages of the World Cup, a group which also includes hosts England.
“As a team we’re very relieved,” Cooper told the BBC.
“We’ve prepared all year for a game like this. We’ve started to put things together as a team but Wales kept coming back at us.
“Wales are a class outfit. We knew they would keep coming but we stuck to our guns and did what we did for the majority of this tour.”
The match started in frenetic fashion, with Folau looking odds-on to score in the first minute after cutting through the Welsh defence.
The Six Nations champions managed to turn the ball over and spin it out to North, whose decision to kick looked to be the wrong option until Adam Ashley- Cooper failed to control, allowing the big wing to swoop for the try.
After two penalties to Wales and one to Australia, the visitors hit back with a spectacular try of their own.
Michael Hooper turned the ball over, and following a sublime pass by Cooper and subsequent offload by Tomane, Lealiifano was able to race through a hole in the defence.
A further penalty to Dan Biggar extended Wales’ advantage to 16-10, but they were starting to suffer in the face of losing four lineouts off their own throw and Australia’s backline fluency.
Australia blew two chances created by Cooper and Tomane before edging ahead before the half was out.
Biggar was given a yellow card after helping stop Folau from scoring what looked like another certain try, but Australia were rewarded for electing to keep the ball in hand, Folau eventually getting a deserved try to give his side a 17-16 lead at the break.
Australia added a further penalty immediately after the restart, and had their third try after 49 minutes when Tomane showed great hands to dot down in the corner.
With 21 minutes remaining North scored his second, powering his way through the defence to narrow the gap to a converted try to ensure a frantic final period.
Rhys Priestland knocked over a penalty with 12 minutes left, but despite having Cooper yellow-carded for an early tackle with six minutes left, Wales were unable to break the Australian defence for a third time.
The win rounds off a tough tour for Australia, who beat Italy, Scotland and Ireland but lost 20-13 to England, and had six players suspended and another nine sanctioned by coach Ewen McKenzie following a drinking session leading up to the Ireland test.
After going down to South Africa, Wales managed to beat Argentina and Tonga but will be disappointed that once again they failed to defeat one of the big teams from the southern hemisphere, their last victory being the 2008 win over Australia.