Preview: Australia v Wales

Date published: June 15 2012

It is now or never for Wales in Melbourne this week as they look to send this series against Australia down to a grand finale in Sydney.

It is now or never for Wales at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne as they look to send this series against Australia to a tasty finale in Sydney on June 23.

Last week's opener saw them come painfully close to completing a come-from-behind victory until Pat McCabe struck to repel a Welsh surge.

Despite being the 4/1 series underdogs, it was predicted in many corners that Wales were the north's strongest hope of success down south, but in truth their first effort was not what many expected. They were sluggish out of the blocks and did not recapture their Six Nations form.

A response is needed and that is what their caretaker coach is expecting. At least one northern side must create a decider, surely?

“The more we play against Australia the better we will become,” Rob Howley said. “They are number two in the world. We are always looking up at the upper echelons of the world rankings and we want to be there. You only get better by playing New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.”

The return to the camp – and also just the presence – of coach Warren Gatland should help them in that aforementioned quest to rub shoulders with rugby's top three. Gatland, the favourite to win the nomination to become the British & Irish Lions coach in Australia next year, was injured in a fall while working at his family beach house on Waihi Beach on Easter Monday. He suffered multiple fractures to the right heel bone and also a fracture to the left, meaning both his legs were put in casts and underwent surgery to reconstruct his right heel. The injuries meant he has stayed at home in New Zealand ever since. Until now.

It will be interesting to see what impact the 48-year-old's presence has on a squad that has been hit by the absence of Toby Faletau while Rhys Priestland has come under criticism.

The Wallabies meanwhile – if we are to believe Australia's press – could well have been coachless had their Will Genia-inspired showing not happened. Genia found another remarkable try in his locker in Brisbane to help cool the heat on coach Robbie Deans.

Following that victory, Deans has decided to keep the faith with his line-up as Kurtley Beale nears his return to international rugby. How they will have their stocks boosted by his return as he provides something in attack that, no disrespect to Berrick Barnes, others don't.

They do not have Beale just yet though so here is another opportunity for the Welsh to claim a victory on Australian soil to send this series over to Sydney with its destination unknown.

Players to watch:

For Australia: Some men came to the party in the first Test and they were Adam Ashley-Cooper, Will Genia, David Pocock, Scott Higginbotham and also Tatafu Polota-Nau. I for one did raise an eyebrow when the Waratahs hooker was preferred to Brumbies stalwart Stephen Moore, but he more than showed his worth at Suncorp Stadium last weekend, with a slick break down the touchline and pull-back pass something that has lasted from their win. There's never really been any doubt about the power of the hooker but his tendancy to struggle with injury was always a nagging issue. Deans will hope he stays fit for a while.

For Wales: For a long time, a few Welsh journos have been plugging Ashley Beck and they finally have their wish this weekend as the Osprey gets the nod to replace Scott Williams in the number twelve jersey. He was decent against the Brumbies and has been excellent for the Liberty Stadium outfit for an extended period of time, but on Saturday he faces the biggest test of his playing career. Also keep an eye on the called-in Ryan Jones at eight.

Head-to-head: It's 1-0 to David Pocock after the Suncorp Stadium Test so Sam Warburton will be keen to make amends in Melbourne when two of rugby's best opensides clash again. There was talk of the latter filling in at number eight after Toby Faletau was flown home injured, with youngster Justin Tipuric stepping up. However, that idea has been overlooked for consistency in positions as Warburton continues to lead from seven.

Previous results:

2012: Australia won 27-19 in Brisbane
2011: Australia won 24-18 in Cardiff
2011: Australia won 21-18 in Auckland
2010: Australia won 25-16 in Cardiff
2009: Australia won 33-12 in Cardiff
2008: Wales won 21-18 in Cardiff
2007: Australia won 32-20 in Cardiff
2007: Australia won 31-0 in Brisbane
2007: Australia won 29-23 in Sydney
2006: Draw 29-29 in Sydney

Prediction: I'm going to stick my neck out – risking the wrath of our Australian readers – and go with the Warren Gatland factor to play a role in the result here. Wales to sneak it by 2!

The teams:

Australia: 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Cooper Vuna, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Berrick Barnes, 9 Will Genia, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 David Pocock (c), 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Dave Dennis, 19 Michael Hooper, 20 Nic White, 21 Anthony Fainga'a, 22 Mike Harris.

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Ashley Beck, 11 George North, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Ryan Jones, 7 Sam Warburton (captain), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Paul James, 18 Luke Charteris, 19 Justin Tipuric, 20 Rhys Webb, 21 James Hook, 22 Scott Williams.

Date: Saturday, June 16
Kick-off: 20:00 (10:00 GMT)
Venue: Etihad Stadium, Melbourne
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)

By Adam Kyriacou