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Wales hold off Australia to edge Rugby World Cup thriller

The Welsh were 23-8 ahead at half-time but they had to withstand a furious second-half onslaught when Australia fought back to within a point late in the game.

Wales' lock Alun Wyn Jones (C) is is tackled by Australia's lock Rory Arnold (C-L) during the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool D match between Australia and Wales at the Tokyo Stadium in Tokyo on 29 September 2019. Picture: AFP

TOKYO - Six Nations champions Wales took a massive step towards topping Pool D with a thrilling 29-25 victory over valiant Australia in the Rugby World Cup on Sunday.

The Welsh were 23-8 ahead at half-time but they had to withstand a furious second-half onslaught when Australia fought back to within a point late in the game.

Wales, 43-14 winners over Georgia in their opener, will now be confident of finishing their pool unbeaten, with their next opponents Fiji in Oita on October 9 before taking on Uruguay in Kumamoto four days later.

"Relief at the moment," said Wales coach Warren Gatland, when asked what he was feeling after the match. "Tough second half but the boys pulled through.

"It was a tough Test match. Very pleased with the first half. We didn't have a lot of ball in the second half and Australia kept coming at us and putting us under a huge amount of pressure. But we were able to hold on thankfully."

Australia captain Michael Hooper said the game "came down to the wire".

"Some big calls there. Some went our way, some didn't," said Hooper.

"We've got to pick ourselves back up. We'll review it. Probably right now recovery's key. We've got a six day turnaround. This sort of format, competition, you've got to move on pretty quick."

An electric game full of enterprising, interlinking play from both sides on a balmy late afternoon in the Japanese capital made for a marvellous spectacle of running rugby.

The 47,885-strong crowd had barely taken their seats after the anthems when Wales were on the scoreboard.

The ubiquitous Aaron Wainwright turned over esteemed Wallaby jackler Michael Hooper from the kick-off, Gareth Davies finding Dan Biggar in the box for a straightforward drop-goal with just 37 seconds on the clock.

Biggar went wide on his first penalty attempt minutes later as Wales continued to attack with fluidity, George North being brought down with the line begging.

The largely red and yellow crowd at Tokyo Stadium traded respective ballads, 'Hymns and Arias' for 'Waltzing Matilda' with mutual applause for both renditions. A hearty round of collective boos, however, rang out when an image of England coach Eddie Jones was shown on the big screen.

Biggar spurned a second shot at goal as Wales looked to build on their momentum.

The ball was quickly recycled from the attacking line-out, Biggar putting in an inch-perfect crosskick that Hadleigh Parkes gathered, the Kiwi-born centre outleaping Marika Koroibete and spinning past Dane Haylett-Petty to dot down in the corner.

The Welsh fly-half hit the extras but saw a second, long-range drop-goal go wide.

Hooper escaped punishment for a late, high hit on Biggar, French referee Romain Poite deciding a penalty was sufficient.

HEAD INJURY

Wales lost their throw-in from the kick, handing Australia the chance to fire back down the pitch, a Parkes tackle on opposite number Samu Kerevi preventing a sure try.

The Wallaby forwards arrived en masse, and with the Welsh defence scrambling, Bernard Foley cross-kicked perfectly to veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper, the winger stepping inside Josh Adams with aplomb to scramble over for a deserved try.

Foley scuffed the conversion, but with both sides more than willing to throw the ball around, it didn't seem to matter.

Biggar bundled Serevi into touch after the strapping Fiji-born centre had two-stepped around Jonathan Davies, but the fly-half paid for that defensive showing by being subbed off with a head injury, replaced by Rhys Patchell.

Foley and Patchell traded penalties before Gareth Davies pounced to intercept a deep pass from a stuttering Will Genia to sprint home from 60 metres.

Patchell converted to make it 23-8 at half-time and dropped a goal four minutes into the second period as Wales looked to turn the screw.

Australia were far from done, however, David Pocock providing the perfect offload for Dane Haylett-Petty to score the Wallabies' second try, Matt Toomua converting.

The Welsh defence, built around No 8 Josh Navidi and skipper Alun Wyn Jones, winning a Wales-record 130th cap, could only hold firm for so long as Australia proceeded to camp out in their 22m area with a series of set-pieces, Hooper eventually being driven for an invaluable try Toomua converted.

Games between the two sides are traditionally tight and so it again proved, Toomua hitting a 69th-minute penalty to reduce Wales' lead to just one point.

Patchell responded in kind, Tomos Williams kept an Australian kick to touch in play and Wales saw out a tense final five minutes to set themselves up as likely Pool D winners.

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