Australia 22, Wales 19: Enter the Dragon? Or maybe not…

The Welsh Dragon was close to roaring Saturday in a place known as a “Land Down Under,” (Danger, cheesy video link) as their match with Australia teetered back-and-forth like a prize fight in the final quarter of the game.

The current Six Nations champs, the Welsh have looked incredibly strong in recent matches, reaching the 2011 Rugby World Cup semifinals only to lose 9-8 to France; and winning their third Six Nations title in six years. Their tour of Australia has been no different.

Mistakes turned out to be the name of the game for Wales throughout the first 60 minutes as each time Wales started to drive they’d get hit with a penalty, or knock the ball forward. Australia was able to capitalize on many of those penalty kick attempts.

In fact, much of the game was based around penalty kicks, in a stark contrast to the All Blacks-Ireland tryfest. Australia’s flyhalf Barrick Barnes traded shots with Welsh fullback Leigh Halfpenny for much of the first half before Welsh #8 Ryan Jones took advantage of Wales’ attack to score the game’s first try, and thanks to a successful Halfpenny conversion Wales held onto a 16-12 momentary lead.

Because shortly after the game resumed Australia responded with their own try from centre Rob Horne, which had to be confirmed by the TV Monitoring Official. Barnes missed the conversion kick, which left Australia with a precarious one point lead, 17-16.

In the last ten minutes of the match, Wales and Australia traded the lead as each team scored penalty goals, with Australia holding onto to the win.

While Australia did take the series 3-0, all three of the Wallabies’ wins were close – the largest margin being 8 points in the first match in Brisbane. This should be taken more as a sign of Wales’ continued positive team development than it is of Australia taking it easy on their visitors from the North.

New Zealand 60, Ireland 0: What the hell happened to Ireland??

After almost racking up their first non-defeat by the All Blacks last weekend in Christchurch, with the All Blacks winning the game on a last minute drop-goal by Dan Carter, Ireland decided to get the whole pesky “end of game” collapse out of the way in the first 20 minutes of their third Test Saturday in Hamilton. The 60-0 final score was the worst defeat ever by the Irish at New Zealand’s hands, just seven days off from having almost beaten the All Blacks for the first time ever.

Ireland’s collapse started off strong, giving away four tries in the first 22 minutes to the All Blacks, including a back-to-back pair to… wait for it… (no not Gavin Henson)… reputed soon-to-be-returning to Rugby League star Sonny Bill Williams.

The Irish never appeared to be very comfortable, especially once New Zealand took such a commanding 26-0 lead in the first quarter of the game. Ireland were never able to capitalize after captain Brian O’Driscoll started to engineer a drive into New Zealand territory. At the half, Irish fullback Rob Kearney intercepted a pass that would have led to yet another New Zealand try, but the ref decided he deliberately knocked it on, gave  Kearney a 10-minute yellow card, and gave a penalty for the All Blacks, who tacked on a three-point penalty kick to go into the half leading 29-0.

The second half looked no better for the Irish, as the All Blacks picked up where they left off, charging through a battered Irish defense time and again to score nearly at will. By the time it was over the Irish looked dejected, bewildered, wondering if anyone got the name of the train that ran over them in Hamilton.

Unfortunately, last week’s question of “what could have been” has been replaced by “what the hell happened?” Both are questions that will take a long time to answer.  And the way the tour schedule is firming up for the future, Saturday was the last time in the next 12 years that Ireland had a chance at gaining their first win against New Zealand, outside of any possible faceoffs in the World Cup.