Redeemed playmaker Quade Cooper produced a man-of-the-match display in his 50th Test as the Wallabies broke Welsh hearts once again with a pulsating 30-26 victory at Millennium Stadium.
In a classic topsy-turvy rugby Test, Australia showed power, precision and passion before holding on for dear life in the nerve-wracking final 15 minutes when Cooper was controversially yellow-carded for an early tackle.
The three-tries-to-two win under heavy fire put an exclamation mark on a roller-coaster year for the Wallabies – who end their European tour with four straight wins after an opening loss to England.
The enigmatic Cooper was at his bewildering best as he set up the Wallabies opening try, produced some signature magic tricks, defended stoutly and pulled the strings for a spectacular attacking display that had the tourists up 30-16 in the 50th minute.
But Wales stormed back when star winger George North burst past Scott Fardy for his second try to close the gap to seven points.
When Rhys Priestland punished a Ben Mowen ruck infringement with a penalty goal, the score was 30-26 with 13 minutes to go.
The Welsh attacked relentlessly but couldn’t end their Wallabies’ curse in a tense finish.
It was the Six Nations champions’ ninth straight loss to Australia and their fourth in a row by four points or fewer.
A scintillating first half began with a ridiculous second-minute try to North after Israel Folau had almost scored at the other end.
Fullback Leigh Halfpenny produced a try-saving tackle and then Wales punished Folau’s risky pass off the ground with a 80m counter-attack.
North kicked ahead and a tricky bounce bamboozled Adam Ashley-Cooper who toed it back in the winger’s path.
Both sides attacked with ball in hand as no scrums were packed in the first half and neither team controlled their own lineout.
Wales delivered promised ferocity, Richard Hibbard backing up his early talk with a jolting tackle on rival hooker Stephen Moore that spilled the ball and resulted in an off-side penalty.
Radarboot Halfpenny slotted his fourth kick from as many attempts from long-range for a 13-3 advantage after just 18 minutes.
But the Wallabies immediately hit back with a stunning try to Christian Leali’ifano, sparked by a Michael Hooper turnover and off-load on the ground before Cooper produced a backhand flick pass to put Joe Tomane down the sideline and feed his centre.
Looking full of confidence in his 50th Test, Cooper repeated the magic trick before halftime but Tomane’s inside ball was dropped by Will Genia for a try to go begging.
Australia could have scored again but Folau ignored support and went himself to be pulled down on the line but the Welsh were punished with five-eighth Dan Biggar sin binned for a cynical foul.
In the end, Genia pulled out a fine cut-out pass for Folau to score his 10th try of the year, equalling Lote Tuqiri’s 2004 record, to give the tourists a 17-16 lead going into the break.
Folau and Cooper combined for the Wallabies’ third try just after the break when Tomane scooped the giant fullback’s pass off the grass and made it over in the corner for a 14-point lead.