Australia overcame early injuries to star backs Quade Cooper and Kurtley Beale to subdue Wales 21-18 and win the Rugby World Cup third-place playoff at Eden Park.
The play-off for bronze was always about who could switch back on mentally after their semi-finals disappointments, and the Wallabies rebounded superbly.
Their vaunted backline was back to its flashy best in the first half, but after more injuries in a campaign plagued by them, they relied on grit and a ball-jolting defence to win.
The result, which flattered the Welsh, left them in double pain after narrowly losing to France with 14 men in the semi-finals.
The Welsh wanted to prove they would have been worthy finalists, but needed a try from a forward pass to grab a brief lead in the second half, and matched the Wallabies with a second try only deep in injury time.
James Hook and Leigh Halfpenny both missed shots at goal as, for the second match in a row following their 9-8 semi-final loss to France, Wales again let precious points slip by.
"At this level, you've got to take the opportunities, but unfortunately on these big occasions our goal-kicking has let us down," Wales coach Warren Gatland, who started with Hook at fly-half in the absence of the injured Rhys Priestland, with veteran Stephen Jones on the bench, said
"If you look at the past, those kickers that have been taking goals, their percentages have normally been in the 80s and they've been reliable goal-kickers and for whatever reason, unfortunately, they've missed a couple of crucial ones."
Australia inside centre Berrick Barnes finished off a brilliantly executed try early in the match that suggested the Wallabies might run away with the result but they struggled to maintain their composure after losing playmaker Cooper and defence-splitting fullback Beale to injury.
Barnes and wing James O'Connor kept the scoreboard ticking along with their accurate kicking under pressure but it was not until number eight Ben McCalman crashed over six minutes from the end that the victory was secured.
"We knew Wales would make us work," Australia captain James Horwill said.
"We got off to a good start but they made us work defence ... but it was a good effort by the boys
"Losing Quade and Kurtley wasn't ideal but the boys adapted really well."