Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has delivered an uncharacteristic blast at the match officials after his brave but ill-disciplined Wallabies were beaten 29-28 in a thrilling European tour finale in Cardiff.
Australia, who had to play with 14 men for 65 minutes after Rob Valetini’s sending off and at one point went down to 13 after Kurtley Beale’s sin-binning, eventually lost only to the last kick of the match on Saturday (Sunday morning AEDT).
Yet after Rhys Priestland’s 82nd minute shot snatched victory away from his short-handed side, normally mild-mannered New Zealander Rennie went on the warpath, calling the officiating “horrendous”.
“I felt it as important I spoke my mind – I’ve been a professional coach for over 20 years and I’ve never gone to the media and had a crack at the referee or referee group, but I felt I had to tonight,” he said.
“How do I support my team – by biting my lip again, and us getting apologies during the week? It doesn’t change the result. We deserved better.”
Despite Rennie’s protestations, his side were let down, as against England and Scotland, by offering up too many penalties – 13 in all – and he had no arguments with Valetini’s red card for a high head-clash tackle after 15 minutes.
Amazingly, in a bad-tempered affair, his short-handed side battled back to be two minutes away from a most improbable win when Beale kicked a 78th minute penalty for them to lead 28-26.
Yet in one last-ditch attack, roared on by a deafening 68,112 crowd, Australia were pinged one last time under pressure near their own line to give up the decisive penalty.
Australia had been two men down for 10 minutes in the first-half when Beale was binned for a deliberate knock on.
Rennie was furious about double standards after what he felt was a similar offence by Wales centre Nick Tompkins in the second half went unpunished as the ball supposedly went backwards before he collected it and scooted over unchallenged.
“Kurtley Beale got sin-binned for slapping the ball down; they do the same thing, it clearly goes forward and they get seven points out of us,” complained Rennie.
He was unhappiest with TMO Marius Jonker, who’d also had that role when his side lost 15-13 to Scotland at Murrayfield and ruled that prop Allan Alaalatoa should be yellow carded.
World Rugby subsequently apologised for that binning, saying it had been incorrect.
His frustration came as his side hardly deserved the ignominy of being the first Wallabies team to fail to win a Test on a European tour for 45 years.
It was a doubly frustrating evening as they saved some of their best attacking rugby for last, going over for three tries to Wales’ two.
After 80 try-less minutes against England the previous week, the Wallabies needed just two minutes to blitz over with Andrew Kellaway freed to snaffle his ninth try in 13 Tests from Hunter Paisami’s grubber.
The key moment came when Valetini, standing tall, crashed recklessly head-to-head into Welsh lock Adam Beard, who hobbled off and played no further part.
Neither did the Australian No.8, who apologised to his stricken opponent while walking off.
After Beale’s punishment for knocking down Tompkins’ slip pass, the Welsh punished Australia’s 13, with hooker Ryan Elias ploughing over in the right hand corner from a slick attack off a line-out.
When Taniela Tupou went offside – Australia’s ninth penalty of the half – Biggar slotted over to give the hosts a 16-13 interval lead.
Even short-handed, the Wallabies looked the most threatening in attack before the Tomkins score.
And when Gareth Thomas went to the bin for a swinging arm clean-out to briefly bring it to a 14 v 14 affair, the Wallabies finally cashed in with a brilliant try, instituted by Beale’s incisive break and finished by halfback Nic White.
Remarkably, they got to within a point when Filipo Daugunu, on his recall, produced a brilliant diving finish in the left-hand corner after a sharp break from Paisami, all leading up to the dramatic denouement.