A week after celebrating their greatest win, the Wallaroos repeated the dose by pulling off a remarkable win over Wales on Friday night in Auckland.
Despite going down to 13 players in the second half because of a red card to Siokapesi Palu and yellow card to Sera Naiqama, the Wallaroos overturned a 14-8 deficit by scoring 17 straight points to record a stunning 25-19 win.
The Wallaroos didn’t make it easy for themselves, with ill-discipline and poor decision making proving costly.
That much was true at the death, as Welsh playmaker Lleucu George made replacement back-rower Ashley Marsters pay for booting possession away by successfully pulling off a 50-22 in the 80th minute.
After scoring three tries off the back of rolling mauls, including a penalty try in the 47th minute that saw Naiqama sent to the sin bin and their third try to Kelsey Jones 30 minutes later, Wales was rewarded with another rolling maul penalty.
It allowed Wales to kick for the corner, where they could attempt to maul for victory.
But in a sudden change of events, the Wallaroos managed to repel the powerful Welsh maul and bring it down legally before Hollie Davidson blew full-time.
While there were some unruly scenes at the collapse of the maul, the Wallaroos saved their biggest celebrations when Davidson’s confirmed full-time.
The victory, which came a week after their upset 29-20 win over France and was watched by Rugby Australia chief-executive Phil Waugh, ensured outgoing Wallaroos coach Jay Tregonning bowed out a winner in his 16th and final Test in charge.
“We probably let ourselves down in terms of discipline but props to the girls for that Aussie battler attitude,” Wallaroos skipper Michaela Leonard said.
“With 13 on the field we kept working and it came out in our favour.”
Leonard paid tribute to her outgoing coach’s efforts over the past two years in charge of the Wallaroos.
“Jay’s been incredible for this group,” she said.
“He came in when we were in a transition period, we had a lot of our older, more experienced girls retire, and work towards a bit more of a professional platform.
“He’s done really well with an inexperienced, young group of players to build our confidence, teach us how to be professional on and off the field, and to keep us building and I think you can see that over the past 12 months.”
Tregonning, who will return to the classroom next week but wants to stay involved in high-performance rugby, paid tribute to his bench.
“Our finishers were outstanding when they came on and did a really good job,” he said.
“Obviously a couple of players down there for a part of the game and one player down for a fair chunk. We’d been talking about effort and it was obviously evident today.”
The Wallaroos scored first in the 17th minute when Maya Stewart crossed out wide.
Her try came after Palu, who up until her red card was one of her side’s best, had carried strongly out wide to lay the platform and combine nicely with outside centre Georgina Friedrichs.
Wales hit back 10 minutes later when hooker Carys Phillips scored from the maul.
An error from the kick restart allowed the Wallaroos a prime opportunity to strike back.
Moments later, Kiera Bevan didn’t support her weight at the breakdown and was pinked. That allowed Carys Dallinger to step up and give the Wallaroos an 8-7 lead after 32 minutes.
The Wallaroos had a late chance to turn territory into points when Wales were penalised again, but Naiqama’s infringement at the maul ensured they went into half-time with the narrowest of leads.
That looked like biting them in the backside when Palu was shown a straight red card for making direct contact with the head of fullback Jasmine Joyce in an upright tackle in the 42nd minute.
While the Wallaroos managed to deny Wales to begin with, it wasn’t long before the pressure began to tell.
Wales kicked for the corner and once again kept the ball tight in their maul and Naiqama infringed by illegally collapsing the maul in the 47th minute.
It meant the Wallaroos didn’t just lose the lead, but they were down to 13 too.
Step up tight-head prop Eva Karpani, who fresh the back of her hat-trick against France got the ball from the back of a maul herself five minutes later and ran straight over replacement halfback Megan Davies and took two others with her to score.
The Wallaroos threatened when Stewart found some space out wide, but Wales’ defence rallied.
Marsters then came up with one of the plays of the match, as she got on the ball at the back of a maul and won a penalty for her side.
While the lineout was overthrown, Dallinger cleaned it up beautifully and got her side on the front-foot when she made a break centre field and combined with Friedrichs.
Not long after, Dallinger, whose right-foot is one of her strengths, put the ball on the toe for Stewart and replacement outside back Lori Cramer was on the spot to pounce on the crumbs to score.
Some good hands from the Wallaroos’ backline then saw Ivania Wong score their fourth try.
Wales didn’t go away, as Jones scored to give them hope in the 77th minute.
Indeed, it looked like Wales would steal it at the death.
But the Wallaroos held on to finish their year on a high.
With Waugh sitting in the stands, the win could prove bigger than first meets the eye too.