THE Wallabies must be crafty sadists.
Australia were so dominant at the Millennium Stadium, fast of mind and full of tenacity, that they were cruising at 30-16 approaching the hour.
They played some marvellous rugby to cut Wales open with fly-half Quade Cooper pulling the strings majestically, full-back Israel Folau galloping free and openside Michael Hooper buzzing around, seemingly always in the thick of the action.
The Wallabies had build a convincing lead despite bombing a handful of clear openings; for once this was not an occasion to lament clinical southern hemisphere tourists.
With an hour gone it seemed extremely unlikely that Wales would be adding another sob story to the bursting file of 'if onlys'.
Yet that's what we got.
It was enough to make you ponder whether it's a grand plan ahead of the 2015 World Cup – break Wales mentally by dishing out a raft of narrow wins.
Six of the Aussies' nine wins on the spin have been by less than a score and hammerings can, perversely, be easier to take.
But this wasn't like a lot of the others. Wales were outclassed and this was not a to-and-fro encounter.
How many of Warren Gatland's charges got the better of their opposite number? Toby Faletau perhaps.
The Wales boss attempted to be as cunning as Cooper after the match by trying to distract from another failure against a big gun from the south.
He pondered whether Wayne Barnes had made a blunder by awarding a Joe Tomane try despite a forward pass (it wasn't forward) and posed whether a penalty try should have been awarded when Cooper tackled Scott Williams early (it shouldn't, a try was far from certain).
The autumn series has been bookended by terrific games; the breathtaking brutality of the Springboks opener and stunning attacking play of the Wallabies finale.
Wales have played their part yet their Sanzar losing streak has stretched to 18.
While Australia were comfortably the better side there were opportunities to end the hoodoo.
A 10-0 headstart was the stuff of dreams, wing George North profiting from an Adam Ashley-Cooper error to cross and five points from the boot of Leigh Halfpenny putting them in command with 11 minutes on the clock.
Back came the Wallabies and they deservedly led 17-16 at the break thanks to scores by Christian Leali'ifano and the marvellous Israel Folau.
The first was a beauty made by a 'how did he do that?' Cooper pass while the second came from a brutal passage of play in which George North smashed Ashley-Cooper on the Wales line, followed by Richard Hibbard crunching Ben Mowen only for the exemplary ball presentation to enable Folau to dish out some treatment of his own on Mike Phillips, whose tackle attempt was too high.
Wales fly-half Dan Biggar was in the sin bin for the second try – taking one for the team for killing the ball after Folau's dancing feet had got him within inches of the line – and the Wallabies continued to press in his absence after the restart.
A cover tackle by the terrific Faletau denied wing Nick Cummins but Leali'ifano banged over a penalty and then, with Wales back to 15, added the extras when Tomane was put over down the right.
The game looked up after another Leali'ifano three-pointer but then North, who had a shocker in defence, burst through midfield after being moved to outside centre.
The extras and a penalty by replacement fly-half Rhys Priestland gave them 11 minutes to find a winner.
Alas, there was to be no All Blacks-like escape with Wales bizarrely kicking away possession twice in the last two minutes.
It left the players to talk after the match about creating history by winning a hat-trick of Six Nations crowns. Anything but mention about yet another failure against the Wallabies.
Wales: L Halfpenny, A Cuthbert, O Williams (L Williams 50), S Williams, G North, D Biggar (R Priestland 63), M Phillips (R Williams 71), G Jenkins (R Bevington 40), R Hibbard (K Owens 63), R Jones (S Lee 66), A W Jones, I Evans, D Lydiate (J Tipuric 63), S Warburton (captain), T Faletau.
Scorers: tries – G North (2); conversions – L Halfpenny, D Biggar; penalties – L Halfpenny (2), D Biggar, R Priestland
Australia: I Folau, J Tomane, A Ashley-Cooper, C Leali'ifano (M Harris 62), N Cummins, Q Cooper, W Genia, J Slipper (B Robinson 63), S Moore (T Polata-Nau 70), S Kepu (B Alexander 55), R Simmons, J Horwill (K Douglas 60), S Fardy, M Hooper, B Mowen (D Dennis 70).
Scorers: tries – C Leali'ifano, I Folau, J Tomane; conversions – C Leali'ifano (3); penalties – C Leali'ifano (3)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)