Wales start their November Test programme with what promises to be an entertaining clash against Australia in Cardiff on Saturday.
With encounters against Argentina, Japan and South Africa waiting on the horizon, Wales will be keen to kickstart their end-of-year campaign with a victory over the Wallabies.
That is easier said than done though as they have lost their last 11 Tests against Australia. The last time Wales beat the Wallabies was in 2008 and just two of their players from that Test – captain and prop Gethin Jenkins as well as centre Jamie Roberts – will be in action this weekend.
With Warren Gatland appointed as the British and Irish Lions’ head coach, Rob Howley has, once again been entrusted with the task of taking over Wales’ coaching duties.
Howley is no stranger to this job as he also took over the reins from June 2012 to March 2013 when Gatland was sidelined with two broken heels while on holiday in New Zealand.
During that time, however, they suffered a 3–0 series defeat to the Wallabies during their 2012 tour of Australia.
Australia, meanwhile, head into this clash with some degree of confidence knowing that their opponents will be desperate to beat them.
The Wallabies have delivered a mixed bag of results in 2016, however. They started the year with three successive defeats to England during their Test series in Australia and followed that up with back-to-back losses against New Zealand.
They won three out of six matches in the Rugby Championship – in which they finished second – before losing their third Test to New Zealand, the Bledisloe Cup clash in Auckland two weeks ago.
Despite their impressive record against their hosts, Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika is taking nothing for granted and expects a tough challenge.
“I don’t know if anyone’s thinking about 12 in a row when you haven’t won as many games as we should’ve won this year,” he said.
“That hasn’t even popped up on anyone’s radar. All that stuff is exactly what it is – the past. It gives us nothing on Saturday and gives them nothing either.
“The two teams on match day, putting their best rugby forward, and the better team will win – that’s how it always boils down.”
Although Australia have been dominant in this fixtures of late, there have several thrilling finishes, with 10 of their 11 consecutive triumphs decided by fewer than 10 points.
Players to watch:
For Wales: If the Welsh are to turn the tables on their hoodoo team on Saturday much will depend on the performance of their dynamic midfield combination of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies (Davies has since been ruled out, replaced by Scott Williams). The old firm’s strength is their ability to get their team over the advantage line with the ball carrying ability. Roberts’ physicality is well documented and if he manages to create space, Davies is sure to exploit it with his superb running game.
For Australia: All eyes will be on David Pocock who starts in the unfamiliar blindside flanker position. With openside flank he’s preferred position, Pocock will be expected to make an impact at the breakdown, in tandem with Michael Hooper, as they are two of the game’s leading ball-pilferers. Pocock has shown in the past – when moved to number eight – that he can impress regardless of the number on his back but in his new role he will be expected to do plenty of grafting to allow his more flashier team-mates to work their magic on attack.
Head-to-head: The battle between the two fly-halves will be crucial and their decision-making will have a huge bearing on the result. Dan Biggar will be expected to keep the scoreboard ticking with his accurate goalkicking and his game management must also be at his best if Wales want to end their run of bad results against the two-time world champions. After a spell at inside centre during the Rugby Championship, Bernard Foley returned to his preferred pivot role in the Bledisloe Cup clash against the All Blacks earlier this month. His impressive playmaking skills will be expected to bring out the best in dangerous attackers like Tevita Kuridrani, Henry Speight and Israel Folau and if the pivot gets good front-foot ball from his forwards it could be a long day at the office for the home side.
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: There’s little to choose between these sides and although Wales will have home ground advantage, the Wallabies will edge this one. Australia to win by five points!
Wales (revised): 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Samson Le, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Gethin Jenkins
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Cory Hill, 20 James King, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Hallam Amos
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Henry Speight, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Lopeti Timani, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 David Pocock, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 James Slipper, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Scott Fardy, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Quade Cooper, 23 Sefa Naivalu
Date: Saturday, November 5
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 14:30 local
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)