June 17, 2012
The Wallabies celebrate Rob Horne's try at the end of the first half. Photo: Getty Images
New Zealand-born Mike Harris is an Australian forever thanks to a penalty after the siren that got the Wallabies home last night, writes Greg Growden.
Emblazoned on the billboard outside the Welsh Church in the middle of Melbourne yesterday were the words: ''God shows no favourites. But this church does … C'mon Wales.''
Not surprisingly in a city where sport is a religion, Melbourne churches have a long tradition of pushing smart footy-oriented messages - the most famous being some decades ago when a small church near Glenferrie Oval had on its board: ''What would you do if Jesus Christ came to Hawthorn today?''
Underneath it someone scrawled: ''Move Peter Hudson to centre-half forward.'' (For those not obsessed with AFL, and there are some, Hudson, the king of Hawthorn, was probably the code's greatest goal-kicking full-forward.) At Etihad Stadium last night, the gods were certainly not on the side of the Grand Slam Six Nations champions when they suffered the agony of losing by just two points in extra time when a Mike Harris penalty goal allowed the Wallabies to take the most dramatic, exciting of 2-0 Test series leads against a quality opposition. At least no one had to move anywhere to accommodate a messiah. But there were still plenty of attention-seeking naughty boys.
There was tension, aggression, players like Wallabies winger Cooper Vuna sent to the sin bin for ridiculous acts, the high drama of man of the match Berrick Barnes having to rush back from Sydney after the birth of his first child to get to the game on time, and then the tension of his replacement, Harris, having to kick the final penalty to win the game. The Wallabies had it won, then they lost it when they bombed numerous attractive chances in the final minutes, and then won it again with a penalty awarded after the bell. They were stunned as anyone that they were victors.
Barnes, on the most special of days, had kicked 17 points from five penalties and a conversion until his leg went dead. He then missed one, which looked as if it would lose the Wallabies the game, when now hobbling, he was replaced by Harris, who was up to the big moment.
The unusual tone of this match was set early. Infuriated by how much space Will Genia and David Pocock had to perform their magic tricks in Brisbane, the Welsh immediately attacked the fuse box with a sledgehammer. The Welsh forwards didn't take 25 minutes to find their stride, as was the case at Suncorp Stadium, but broke through the barrier and were straight into it, pushing play in the Wallabies quarter to score within minutes following several pick and drives.
That was the important he-man moment, to remind the Wallabies just how good they were, and then it came down to Wales attempting to slow everything down, especially at the breakdown, forcing Genia to fight for the ball rather than having silver service. The Welsh squeeze worked. For a long time the Wallabies were unable to excite the scoreboard attendant. The Wallabies still had plentiful possession in the first half, but there were no gargantuan gaps to take advantage to. They now had to rely on patience, constantly changing their attacking lines, and probing here and there. But they knew if they just stuck at it, something would come, and it did in the 39th minute, when Barnes swivelled the hips and snuck in between Welsh captain and flanker Sam Warburton and centre Ashley Beck. He then timed the pass beautifully to that marvellous finisher Rob Horne, who once again completed the assignment to give the Wallabies a 13-7 half-time lead.
Eventually Genia had to make a mistake. It occurred straight after the break when a Genia pass after a lineout aimed at Digby Ioane instead fell into no man's land, allowing opposing centre Ashley Beck to boot ahead and midfielder Jonathan Davies to regather to once again give Wales the ascendency.
Then came an exchange of penalty goals, with the lead changing virtually every second minute.
The Wallabies, via Barnes and Harris, won that kick-off to be victors of a special Test match, full of spice and stardust. One that will be remembered for years.
AUSTRALIA 25 (Rob Horne try Berrick Barnes con Barnes 5, Michael Harris pens) bt WALES 23 (Jonathan Davies, George North tries Leigh Halfpenny 2 cons 3 pens) at Etihad Stadium. Referee: Chris Pollock. Crowd: 33,888.