Ice man Bernard Foley kicked the Wallabies to a tenth straight victory over Wales to deliver Michael Cheika’s first Test win as coach and a 2015 World Cup boost.
Australia triumphed 33-28 in a thrilling encounter at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Saturday despite being outscored by three tries to four, with NSW Waratahs five-eighth Foley slotting a late drop goal and three second-half penalties.
Earlier Israel Folau broke a five-game, try-scoring drought, crossing the line twice in a frantic first half that ended with the score 21-21.
The win in front of 55,004 fans ensured Australia maintained dominance over Wales ahead of their meeting in the group stage at next year’s Rugby World Cup.
Australia won the previous five encounters between the sides by five points or fewer and again had to dig deep.
While the Wallabies forwards matched it with the Welsh pack for most of the game, they caved to some late pressure in the scrum and Wales earned a penalty try.
It gave the home side a 28-27 lead with 12 minutes to go before Foley again showed his match-winning abilities.
The playmaker, who slotted a 45-metre penalty late in the Waratahs’ Super Rugby final triumph, nailed a drop goal with eight minutes to go before adding another late penalty for a personal haul of 18 points.
Cheika praised a committed performance from his side and some quick-thinking from match-winner Foley.
“The way we prepare, I’d like to think with the tight game we’ll always get them going our way,” Cheika said.
“In saying that, a drop goal is definitely not in our playbook.
“I don’t think we practised one so that was totally Bernard.
“He thought something was on and he delivered.”
There were plenty of signs the Wallabies are still coming to terms with Cheika’s new aggressive style, particularly in defence, but neither side’s attitude could be faulted.
“It wasn’t perfect, no way, but we created a lot of chances for ourselves in attack,” Cheika said.
Wales came out firing, halfback Rhys Webb selling a dummy and bursting past Wallabies rookie Sean McMahon to score in the second minute.
But Australia fought back through two tries to Folau in the space of 11 minutes.
The first was set up brilliantly by skipper Michael Hooper, with the second all Folau’s doing as he intercepted a George North ball and ran 80 metres to score.
The party continued in the 25th minute when Australia were caught out defensively on the short side, with North busting through the line and finding winger Alex Cuthbert.
Rampaging Wallabies centre Tevita Kuridrani then broke through some feeble defence to score under the posts four minutes later before Alun Wyn Jones barged over from close range to round out a 42-point first half.
The 64th-minute penalty try looked to put Wales on course for a drought-breaking win but Australia benefited from impressive contributions from substitutes including Will Genia, Matt Hodgson and debutant Tetera Faulkner.
“I’m not happy with the result but pretty happy with the performance,” Wales coach Warren Gatland said.
“I thought we showed a huge amount of positives today.”
The Wallabies will depart for Paris on Sunday with their hopes of clean sweeping Wales, France, Ireland and England still alive.