The Wallaroos overcame a Siokapesi Palu red card to send coach Jay Tregonning out on a high, grinding their way to a 25-19 WXV1 win over Wales.
Palu was dismissed for a high shot on Wales fullback Jasmine Joyce in the 41st minute, forcing Australia to dig deep to secure victory at Auckland’s Mount Smart Stadium in Tregonning’s final game after 16 Tests in charge of the national side.
At one point, the Wallaroos were reduced to 13 when lock Sera Naiqama was sent to the sin bin minutes after Palu’s dismissal, but they were able to register a bonus point win and hold off the fast-finishing Welsh.
The Breakdown | Strange new worlds: can the Rugby World Cup live long and prosper?Read more
Wales have never beaten Australia in a Test but were pounding at the Wallaroos’ line right up to the final whistle. The win means Australia finished their inaugural WXV1 campaign with a 2-1 record after a loss to England and victory over France.
“We probably let ourselves down in terms of discipline but props to the girls for that Aussie battler mentality,” Wallaroos skipper Michaela Leonard said. “With 13 on the field we kept working and it came out in our favour.”
Australia began brightly, dominating territory and coming up with an early reward when winger Maya Stewart found space on the overlap to cross in the 15th minute.
Wales hooker Carys Phillips hit back with a try courtesy of a burrowing run just before the half-hour mark.
While Australia No 10 Carys Dallinger couldn’t convert Stewart’s effort, she was able to add a penalty just before halftime which gave the Wallaroos an 8-7 lead at the interval.
Things flipped dramatically shortly after the break, with Palu’s sending-off changing the complexion of the game. Wales took the lead soon after, courtesy of a penalty try awarded when Naiqama was sin-binned for collapsing a maul.
With their numbers reduced to 13, Australia could have imploded – instead, they rallied amid adversity. Tighthead prop Eva Karpani took matters into her own hands by rampaging through three Wales defenders to touch down in the 52nd minute.
skip past newsletter promotion
Sign up to The Breakdown
Free weekly newsletter
The latest rugby union news and analysis, plus all the week’s action reviewed
after newsletter promotion
Dallinger was unable to add the conversion but she made amends for her misfiring boot when she made a searing charge down the middle of the Welsh defence.
As Australia built their phases on Wales’ line the five-eighth kicked to the corner with substitute Lori Cramer pouncing on the loose ball to touch down. Ivania Wong added Australia’s fourth try with a well-taken finish with less than 10 minutes to go.
Wales refused to go away, hooker Kelsey Jones pulling them back into the contest with a late try but Australia withheld a late surge to claim the win.