Tokyo thriller leaves Wales, Australia on very different World Cup paths

TOKYO -- We should never have expected anything else. Even when Wales led by 23-8 at halftime in Tokyo on Sunday night having completely dominated an error-strewn Australia in every facet of the game of the first half, we should have known the game was not done.

It was a night filled with drama. Dan Biggar's departure with concussion; two Welsh drop goals; Gareth Davies' intercept try; Gareth Davies' almost-intercept try; the hooking of Bernard Foley on 44 minutes; the introduction of Matt Toomua; a partial blackout; a stirring Wallabies comeback.

All that amid multiple Television Match Official reviews -- none of which produced cards of any colour -- in what was the kind of rugby game you just simply couldn't turn away from. Even when referee Romain Poite was looking at the big screen.

One night after Japan's astonishing defeat of Ireland in Shizuoka, this was a crazy old night in Tokyo.

That Wales were able to halt the Wallabies' dramatic second-half rally, including one final Australian attack, when it appeared the game had turned, is a measure of how far Warren Gatland's side has come, and why their fans at home and beyond can allow themselves to dream of lifting the World Cup at the end of this tournament.

Playing his 130th Wales Test, they were led superbly again by Alun Wyn Jones who topped the tackle count. Patchell, who played 52 minutes after Biggar failed a Head Injury Assessment, also deserved plenty of credit for ensuring his side's hopes didn't fade with the backline reshuffle.

"This team as a squad has grown up in terms of game management," Gatland said. "That's improved significantly. We've learned a lot from those experiences about management, coming off the bench, shown real character.

"We won some key turnovers towards the end of the game. It was pleasing to handle the six-day turnaround. Georgia [Wales' opening match of the tournament last Monday] wasn't an easy encounter. Our composure and fitness was really good. We soaked up a lot of pressure."

With this win, Wales have likely put themselves on what is the easier side of the knockout draw, certainly one that should see them avoid both of England or New Zealand until the final.

There are of course England's final two pool games against Argentina and France to come, so too Wales' game against Fiji, but if all falls the way it is expected to than Gatland's men have put themselves in the best position to make a maiden World Cup final.

But more on this extraordinary contest first.

When Wales charged at the Australians from the kick-off, winning a turnover at the very first breakdown and allowing Dan Biggar to settle in the pocket and knock over a drop goal after just 36 seconds -- the quickest drop goal in World Cup history -- it was clear the reigning Six Nations champions were up for it.

From there, they completely dominated the first 40 minutes as a dreadful Wallabies side threw passes behind the man, lacked discipline and basically invited Wales to counterattack at will.

Gareth Davies' intercept try took the Welsh out to a 23-8 halftime lead after Hadleigh Parkes and Adam Ashley-Cooper had traded cross-kick five-pointers, laid on by Biggar and Foley respectively, and not even the most positive Wallabies fan would have fancied a comeback. Mind you, some were probably, as they say, "blowing up deluxe", as to whether Davies was on-side before he swallowed up Genia's pass.

It wasn't checked by the TMO, which was curious, given there had already been two lengthy stoppages for referrals which saw Hooper penalised for a late shoulder charge on Biggar and then Samu Kerevi receive the same treatment for a leading forearm on Patchell as the centre ran straight into the Welsh replacement.

While all the previous dangerous tackles at this tournament had come from defenders, this was the first offence from a ball-carrier and the Wallabies were as confused as everyone else.

Wales' halftime lead grew to 18 as Rhys Patchell knocked over his own drop goal four minutes after the break.

But then came the introduction of Toomua who straightened up the Wallabies attack. The forwards, meanwhile, suddenly discovered some of the intensity they had lacked before the break and began to win the collisions and breakdown contests.

Davies would attempt a second shooter intercept of Genia's pass to almost repeat his first-half heroics but this time he was unable to hold the bullet. The momentum had swung.

The Wallabies roared back into the contest with tries from Dane Haylett-Petty and then Hooper, before Toomua brought them to within a point through a penalty.

Patchell would answer for Wales with 10 minutes to play and from there the Six Nations champions would hold on, but not before they were forced to produce one final energy-sapping defensive set.

Cue also the partial blackout to which referee Poite was happy there was enough light to carry on. There was indeed enough, but so too had there already been ample drama. This just put it over the edge.

"I think we got a bit more go-forward in the second half, I think we created a lot more go-forward; we got to what we wanted to do. The first half was punctuated, we made a few breaks and we lost the ball instead of just keeping it; we gave them opportunities," Wallabies coach Michel Cheika said in trying to explain his side's second straight slow start, having also trailed to Fiji at halftime in their opening match.

"We had set-piece dominance, probably that was rewarded, well sort of, in the second half more than the first half," added Cheika. "But there wasn't huge 'why didn't it happen in the first half, why did it happen in the second half' type thing; I thought we developed across the game and we played a lot of the football."

Given one of the more debate-splitting weeks in recent rugby history, when the game's dangerous tackle laws and the word "framework" have been broken down continually, it was hardly a surprise to see three separate incidents reviewed.

Wales winger Josh Adams joined both Hooper and Kerevi from the first half in having high contact sent upstairs and he too avoided anything more than a penalty for an arm that was high but avoided the neck and head.

They won't be the last incidents reviewed at this tournament either, on that you can count.

You should be able to count on Wales topping Pool D and booking themselves a quarterfinal, likely against France. If they can bring the same energy, focus and execution -- and maybe ride just a bit of the same luck too -- from the first half here then they will be in fine position to reach the last four.

The Wallabies, meanwhile, will be where they don't want to be, even if Cheika doesn't admit that having to go through the All Blacks and likely England, just to get to the final, is a vastly more difficult challenge than what sits on the other side.

Australia were terrible in the first half and left themselves just too much to do. To their credit, they produced one almighty comeback that will have had the 48,785 fans in attendance chewing their fingernails right until Poite's final whistle. But it still proved a hurdle too great.

Yes, this was one crazy old night in Tokyo. And one not to be forgotten in a hurry.