2 Nov 2014

Wallabies beat Babaas in thriller

9:12 am on 2 November 2014

The Wallabies have opened their end of year rugby tour with a nail-biting 40-36 win over a lively Barbarians side at Twickenham in Michael Cheika's first game as Australian coach.

Wallabies player Quade Cooper.

Wallabies player Quade Cooper. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

A crowd of almost 54,000 was treated to a highly-entertaining contest featuring 11 tries, with the Wallabies having to survive a late fight back for their ninth straight win in the fixture.

While there were positives for Cheika, the performance also highlighted the work ahead with Australia's defence found wanting at times and their attack lacking some polish.

Among the highlights was a superb debut off the bench by rising Melbourne Rebels backrower Sean McMahon, who capped his first appearance for Australia with a second-half try.

Sam Carter, Benn Robinson, Tevita Kuridrani, Rob Horne and Bernard Foley also crossed for tries while former Wallabies winger Nick "Honey Badger" Cummins scored a late try for the Barbarians.

With four Tests looming against European opposition, Cheika used the match to give a handful of players a chance to push their claims for selection.

First-five Quade Cooper and halfback Will Genia started in their first appearances for Australia this year, putting in decent 55-minute shifts, while rampaging winger Henry Speight had a quiet afternoon on the wing in his debut.

As expected, the Barbarians showed a willingness to to experiment early, thrilling the crowd with long throws, flick passes and an audacious Colin Slade overhead kick that almost led to a try.

Australia were error-prone early and the Barbarians capitalised to score first.

Japan-based Cummins was heavily involved and one of his powerful runs led to the opening try, Blues winger Frank Halai touching down on the opposite flank in the 14th minute.

Australia continued to cough up possession but hit back through lock Carter - one of the few Wallabies forwards to make some early inroads - in the 25th minute.

The Barbarians quickly replied when New Zealander Adam Thompson crossed out wide but Australia hit back in the 32nd minute when Benn Robinson crashed under the post from a clever Genia ball to give Australia a 14-12 halftime lead.

The Wallabies extended their lead six minutes after halftime through a sensational 40-metre solo try by Kuridrani.

McMahon had come off the bench midway through then opening half in place of the injured Scott Higginbotham and he quickly made an impact with barnstorming runs.

The 20-year-old looked to have denied Francis Saili a try early in the second half but it was ruled the New Zealander had grounded the ball first after a video review.

All Black playmaker Slade slotted a penalty from just inside halfway to give his side a one-point lead midway but Australia regained control, with Horne crossing out wide in the 57th minute.

The Wallabies looked to have put the result beyond doubt when Foley scored on the back of a freakish intercept play by Israel Folau.

However late tries to Cummins and South African Marnitz Boshoff ensured a tense finish.