Another end-of-year Test series is upon us and still the same question remains; can Wales end their drought against the big southern trio.
Another end-of-year Test series is upon us and still the same question remains; can Wales end their drought against the heavyweight southern trio.
Not since 2008 have the Welsh defeated Australia – their last success against either the Wallabies, Springboks or All Blacks – as this nightmare international hoodoo has stayed strong for well over half a decade. It simply must end to gain confidence ahead of next year’s World Cup.
Drawn with the Wallabies and of course England, psychological leg-ups are going to be critical both this November and in the Six Nations. However, on recent form and with plenty of game time from the Rugby Championship and last week against the Barbarians, Australia are slight favourites to come out on top. Rightly so we might add as the likes of Michael Hooper, Tevita Kuridrani and James Slipper are in the form of their lives.
It seems strange not to add Israel Folau in the list but with five games without scoring, is the full-back out of form? No, would be the obvious answer to that question as while he’s struggling to find the whitewash, he continues to create for others. Wales simply must keep him quiet.
Warren Gatland has had his own issues mind, as his centre stocks have been hit during the early-season, with Jonathan Davies and Scott Williams ruled out of this opener so George North moves in from the left wing to join Jamie Roberts in a bulking midfield combination.
That duo must be faultless defensively as in Kuridrani, Australia possess the stand-out outside centre of the Rugby Championship. He’s entering on the back of 141 metres against the Barbarians that included some special carries so facing North is going to be a real treat.
One selection that wasn’t injury affected – Gareth Davies is unfortunate not to be fit for the bench – is the half-backs where Gatland goes with form and selects Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar, who have been superb for the Ospreys. Webb might well surprise the Wallabies.
There are, however, a few areas of concern for Gatland before kick-off, one being that Dan Lydiate has hardly played this season while Leigh Halfpenny is another short on minutes. But, according to captain Sam Warburton, fitness isn’t a worry for his back-row colleague as Lydiate’s been putting him to shame in training. The hope for Welsh fans is that the Lions pair, and also the collective, slot back into international rugby seamlessly this weekend.
Indeed they will have to as opposite them are two players of high quality, with debutant Sean McMahon catching the eye enough last weekend to warrant a start. Folau, as mentioned, continues to threaten and will enjoy the new hybrid surface at the Millennium Stadium.
All of these ingredients – possibly the latter being the most important after recent stoppages due to the pitch – sets up what promises to be free-running and fast-paced international, as Wales once again hope this is the turning point against Australia. We have our doubts.
Ones to watch:
For Wales: The half-backs are in great form and deserve their run-out together on the international stage. If they can continue what they have been doing for the Ospreys, then Wales have a chance. Rhys Webb is a threat and directs the play well while Dan Biggar gets the nod ahead of Rhys Priestland. A good performance here and surely coach Gatland will stick with him for good going into the World Cup. Continuity will be vital from here on in.
For Australia: Melbourne Rebels youngster Sean McMahon impressed against the Baa-baas at Twickenham with his powerful carrying punching holes in the defence. With Scott Fardy injured and Scott Higginbotham unable to nail down a jersey, this is McMahon’s big chance, a start in a November international. Also keep an eye out for Bernard Foley, who Wales must watch as he’s a frequent scorer as a support man. In this team that’s a good idea.
Head-to-head: Where else could we go than outside centre where an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. George North is taking on Tevita Kuridrani in Cardiff in what will be an epic contest. Sam Warburton up against Michael Hooper also whets the appetite.
2013: Australia won 30-26, Cardiff
2012: Australia won 14-12, Cardiff
2012: Australia won 20-19, Sydney
2012: Australia won 25-23, Gold Goast
2012: Australia won 27-19, Brisbane
2011: Australia won 24-18, Cardiff
2011: Australia won 21-18, Auckland
2010: Australia won 25-16, Cardiff
2009: Australia won 30-12, Cardiff
2008: Wales won 21-18, Cardiff
Prediction: The visitors to start well and hold on. Australia by 5!
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 George North, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Gethin Jenkins, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Mike Phillips, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Cory Allen.
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Leali’ifano, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Saia Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements (one to be omitted): 16 James Hanson, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 James Horwill, 20 Will Skelton, 21 Matt Hodgson, 22 Will Genia, 23 Quade Cooper, 24 Rob Horne.
Date: Saturday, November 8
Kick-off: 14:30 local (GMT)
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), JP Doyle (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)