The Wallabies' last-gasp win over Wales in Cardiff at the weekend rounded off an underwhelming season, but was enough to save coach Robbie Deans's job.
A try by playmaker Kurtley Beale with just seconds remaining condemned Wales to a dramatic 14-12 defeat on Saturday - Australia's eighth consecutive win over the Welsh.
It wrapped up a European tour that saw the Wallabies beat England, Italy and Wales after a defeat to France in their opening game, but rugby writers were left unimpressed.
"Given the Wallabies' year, it was entirely appropriate that even Kurtley Beale's brilliant late try against Wales came with a caveat," The Sydney Morning Herald's Paul Cully said.
"The game had been won but not by the margin needed to reclaim the No.2 ranking in the world.
"Australia finish the year lower than where they began, with just one win from six games against the world's top four sides and without any silverware: the season has been a failure, although one with mitigating factors."
Cully said all the nagging doubts about the side's direction under Deans were present for most of the game at the Millennium Stadium.
"A lack of guile with ball in hand. The apparent determination to kick the ball away as a strategy rather than a series of individual decisions, and to do it with a lack of accuracy," he said.
"Fortunately, these Welsh are paralysed by a chronic lack of self-belief, as well as a few key injuries."
The Australian's Wayne Smith, a trenchant critic of Deans, said following the European tour Australian rugby officials would undoubtedly decide to stick with him.
"Nine wins, a draw against the All Blacks, and five losses reads like a half-decent season, half-decent enough to see him to continue through to the British and Irish Lions series next year," Smith wrote.
"No matter that Deans and the Wallabies were just 23 seconds away from finishing their year with a loss at Millennium Stadium."
Smith said for long periods in Cardiff, the Australians looked about as "dangerous and exciting as an accountants' convention".
The Sydney Daily Telegraph's Iain Payten agreed that any pressure building on Deans within the Australian Rugby Union boardroom was likely to have petered out.
"The Wallabies ended the year ranked third and among the top seeds for the 2015 World Cup, and Australia's victory over the Welsh was symptomatic of many Wallaby performances in 2012 - ordinary attack and bang-on the average of one try per game, but with great spirit and resolve to claw out a win," he said.
The Wallabies face the British and Irish Lions in three Tests at home next year.
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