Rugby World Cup 2011: Wallabies Beat Wales to Win Bronze Final; Barnes Stars
It's the game that no one wants to be in, and traditionally the game that no one wants to play. But for the first time in years we saw two teams who both looked as though they genuinely wanted to win the Bronze Final of Rugby World Cup 2011 take to the field last night.
The weekend had been billed as a repeat of the final week of the 1987 World Cup, with New Zealand meeting France in the Final and Australia taking on Wales in the third and fourth playoff.
But unlike 1987 it was Australia who emerged victorious this time around, winning a reasonably open game 21-18.
Both teams played as though they had something to prove, not necessarily just with the result, but with the way they played. And credit must be given to both teams for this, as it isn't easy picking yourself up after a semifinal loss to play a game the next weekend.
The game itself was close, but an Australian victory seemed inevitable as it wore on. They looked more dangerous with the ball, while Wales struggled to give the Australian defence the sorts of problems they've been causing other teams throughout the tournament.
Berrick Barnes was the key man for the Wallabies. After slicing through the Welsh defence to score under the posts after receiving a magnificent ball from Quade Cooper, he was forced into first five-eighth after Cooper left the field with a cruciate ligament injury.
Many had suggested that Barnes was the man to wear the No. 10 jersey last week against the All Blacks but Robbie Deans stuck with Quade Cooper which would ultimately lead to disaster.
And Barnes showed the world just what could have been, delivering an outstanding performance, directing play well and proving dangerous running. However the key difference between Barnes and Cooper's play came in that Barnes was able to keep a level head and take the right options, while Cooper's World Cup was littered with rash decisions and poor execution.
The Australian forward pack showed signs of improvement on recent weeks, but still proved to inconsistent to gain any real dominance. It was in the backs where they were the most dangerous and ultimately won the game.
For Wales it was a case of not being able to break the Wallaby line often enough. They've been one of the more lively teams during the tournament, but they struggled to get any sort of go-forward going last night. Jamie Roberts wasn't as effective while the outside backs didn't get the opportunities to shine.
The omission of Rhys Priestland was once again noticeable as James Hook had another forgettable night with the boot and struggled to use his backs in the way Priestland had.
The biggest plus for Wales came in the performance of No. 8 Ryan Jones. Jones has been confined to the bench for the most part of the World Cup, but last night he showed everyone just how good player he is, proving to be outstanding at the breakdown in particular, as well as giving many of his trademark strong runs.
But in reality, this was purely academic. History says the Wallabies walked away with the win, but in the minds of Australians, this was anything but a win. They were here to win it all and third place will be considered a failure.
Tomorrow night the All Blacks meet France in what will be a replay of the 1987 Final to decide who will be crowned World Champions.
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