Wales take on an in-form Australia outfit in their opening November Series fixture at Principality Stadium on Saturday.
Alun Wyn Jones is one of seven returning British & Irish Lions to line up in the starting XV for the clash, alongside Ken Owens, Taulupe Faletau, Dan Biggar, Jonathan Davies, Liam Williams and Leigh Halfpenny. Three players will make their home debut, Owen Williams and Steff Evans in the backline and flanker Josh Navidi.
Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika has made two alterations to his starting line-up for Saturday’s end-of-year Test with Wales in Cardiff, with Bernard Foley and Will Genia coming back into the starting side and will start at fly-half and scrum-half respectively. Samu Kerevi’s form against Japan has also kept him in the starting XV.
Australia just ended a seven-match losing streak against the All Blacks in the third and final Bledisloe Cup Test on 21 October, which will give them plenty of confidence ahead of this Test.
Wales coach Warren Gatland has opted for a dual playmaker strategy that he spoke about during the week. Gloucester pivot Williams starts at inside centre, while Dan Biggar will wear the 10 jersey.
Gatland hopes that Williams and Biggar can form a similarly successful 10-12 axis as the Sexton-Farrell combination the Wales boss employed at the helm of the British and Irish Lions on their recent drawn tour of New Zealand.
“We are going to be looking at that over the next few weeks and it worked with the Lions because you had Farrell and Sexton who are both world class,” Gatland said.
“I know Owen Williams has played a bit at 12 and a bit at 10 and a conversation with Aaron Mauger [the ex-All Black who played with Williams at Leicester] last year he felt he was a 12.
“We will look at combinations and put the players under pressure in terms of decision-making.
“Training is one thing, but there is nothing like a game, particularly first-up against Australia.
“We could look at another combination for the second game against Georgia depending on how the first game goes and who else we want to look at.”
The Wallabies will look to target Biggar, and Williams in his new role, however.
“That’s the game plan we’ll try and work on it,” said centre Tevita Kuridrani.
“We’ll try and target the 10 and 12 channel. It’s something I’ve been working on.
“We’ve got a few good guys on the backline as well … so we’ll target the wide channels as well.”
With big centres such as Kuridrani and Kerevi, the Wallabies are likely to target the Welsh 10-12 channel. When the home side have ball in hand, you can expect them to attempt to play expansive rugby, sending the ball wide on attack and using the boot of Biggar or Williams to pin the Wallabies back in their own territory.
Players to watch:
For Wales: Owen Williams comes into the side at inside centre and he will have a huge say on the new type of game plan Gatland is implementing. Gatland will hope that he can use his creativity and vision to puncture holes in the Wallabies’ defensive wall and to unleash his side’s dangerous outside backs.
For Australia: Samu Kerevi has kept his place in the side after an explosive performance against Japan. His power and direct running style will prove to be a massive test for Williams and the entire Welsh defensive unit. If he plays intelligently, he should also unlock Kuridrani on his outside if he is heavily marked throughout the Test.
Head-to-head: The battle at the breakdown will be interesting. Wales’ openside flank injury woes have resulted in Josh Navidi making his first Test start on home soil. He faces a massive battle, as he will be taking on the always influential Michael Hooper. Hooper’s fetching abilities, ball-carrying and the role he plays as a link between backs and forwards will be key to his side’s success or failure.
2016: Australia won 32-8 in Cardiff
2015: Australia won 15-6 in London (RWC)
2014: Australia won 33-28 in Cardiff
2013: Australia won 30-26 in Cardiff
2012: Australia won 14-12 in Cardiff
2012: Australia won 20-19 in Sydney
2012: Australia won 25-23 in Melbourne
2012: Australia won 27-19 in Brisbane
2011: Australia 24-18 in Cardiff
2011: Australia won 21-18 in Auckland (RWC)
Prediction: The Wallabies will be solid on defence and Wales’ new combinations may be exposed. Australia to win by 10.
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Owen Williams, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Sam Cross, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Owen Watkin, 23 Hallam Amos
Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Marika Koroibete, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Reece Hodge, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 Sean McMahon, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Matt Philip, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Karmichael Hunt, 23 Henry Speight
Date: Saturday, November 11
Venue: Principality Stadium
Kick-Off: 17:15 GMT
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Ian Tempest (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)
By: BRANDON YATES