Sydney - Australia relied on the boot of Berrick Barnes to edge Wales 20-19 in a bruising third Test on Saturday and secure a 3-0 whitewash in a series that was anything but one-sided.
Wales number eight Ryan Jones and Australia centre Rob Horne scored second half tries, but in a match dominated by the whistle of referee Craig Joubert it was the five penalties from rejuvenated flyhalf Barnes that gave the Wallabies a seventh successive win over the Welsh.
Australia had already wrapped up the series with victories in Brisbane and Melbourne and, as in those two Tests, they were pushed to the limit by the Six Nations champions, this time in front of 43,000 fans at the Sydney Football Stadium.
“I think we showed composure at the critical moments,” said Wallabies coach Robbie Deans. “It was a good test match played between two good sides.
“There was plenty going on out there, it just showed the desperation of both teams. Wales wanted to get the win and we wanted to finish the series.”
Wales, who had 14 points from the kicking of Leigh Halfpenny, were seeking just their second win over the Wallabies in Australia, and a first since 1969, but will return home empty-handed after a tough series at the end of a long season.
“It's 3-0, it's a whitewash, we're not hiding from that, but ... my overall feeling is immense pride in the players,” said Wales caretaker coach Rob Howley, whose team were outscored by a combined 11 points over the three Tests.
On a sunny winter afternoon, the stage was set perfectly for a thrilling contest between two young sides who like to run the ball but Joubert stopped play with a regularity that prevented any tempo building.
“Sometimes I thought there were three referees out there, to be honest,” joked Howley.
The South African referee allowed absolutely no leeway at the key battleground of the breakdown and the ensuing slew of penalties saw the sides locked at 9-9 after 25 minutes, Barnes putting Australia ahead three times before Halfpenny replied for the tourists.
Australia dominated territory and possession as they had in the first two tests and there was more bad news for Wales when captain Sam Warburton departed after half an hour with a concussion sustained after tackling Pat McCabe.
Barnes put the home side back in front at 12-9 a minute before halftime, which came up with Wales flyhalf Rhys Priestland's failed attempt to level the scores once again with a drop goal.
The second half opened with more attacking rugby from both sides but two promising Welsh attacks near the Australia line were halted when Joubert blew for the 15th and 16th penalties of the contest.
Wales dominated the scrums throughout and another infraction at the setpiece on halfway allowed Halfpenny the chance to level the score after 53 minutes.
Halfpenny's huge attempt hit the post and bounced away - his first miss from 16 kicks in the series - and within a minute Wallabies fullback Kurtley Beale had been blocked in an attempt to chip and chase his way to the Wales line.
In the ensuing broken play, Wales hacked the ball deep into the home team's half and Australia winger Digby Ioane was forced to take the ball over his own line, conceding a five metre scrum.
Three attempts to set the scrum resulted in two freekicks and a penalty against the Wallabies and after the fourth, the Welsh hammered away at the line until number eight Jones forced his way over under the posts.
“When you consider how dysfunctional our setpiece was, it was a very good effort to win the game,” Australia coach Deans said.
Halfpenny added the extras to give Wales a 16-12 lead just after the hour mark but Australia stormed back immediately and Beale's pass put centre Horne over in the corner to put the hosts back in front and set up a tense last 15 minutes.
Halfpenny edged the Welsh back ahead at 19-17 with his fourth penalty after 71 minutes but Barnes was not to be denied and his three points from the 23rd penalty of the match three minutes later proved the last score of the series.
“I thought we played some good rugby to get into the lead but after that we didn't show the composure we needed and against Australia we are not going to get away with that,” said Howley. – Reuters