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Preview: Australia v Wales

21st June 2012 19:16

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Benn Robinson Mike Phillips Australia v Wales

Third Test: Can Wales finally break free?

Wales will be out to put last week's heartbreaking defeat on the back burner when they try salvage some pride in their third and final Test against Australia in Sydney.

With the series already wrapped up by the Wallabies thanks to a last-gasp Mike Harris penalty in Melbourne, the Six Nations champs will need to dig deep as they bid to avoid a hat-trick of defeats and a surprise series whitewash.

Before the action Down Under kicked off, it was expected that the in-form tourists would at least have taken the three-Test challenge against the less-fancied Australians to a much-anticipated series decider.

However, the form book was drop-kicked out the window. And following their shock defeat to Scotland, the previously under-fire Wallabies have now bounced back and silenced their critics by claiming the spoils thanks to two exasperatingly close wins.

I can't help but wonder had the Wallabies not lost to Scotland, if Wales would perhaps already have one win in the bag. It seems the loss in Newcastle was the wake-up call required ahead of Australia's upcoming fixtures against the Welsh, who took inspiration from their Celtic cousins' win but would ultimately suffer an almighty Wallabies' backlash.

Wales can still take a few positives from their latest defeat. Even though they have only beaten one of the Southern Hemisphere superpowers of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa just twice in their last 39 meetings - the tourists held the Wallabies to their narrowest winning margin over Wales in Australia since 1978.

Be that as it may, it was still a sad case of close but no cigar for Wales who fought gallantly for 80 minutes but must now reflect over a lifetime what could have been. The series might be lost, but the Welsh still have a shot at ending their prolonged 43 years of misery without a win in Australia.

And up against a Wallabies outfit potentially suffering from a wee bit of complacency, Saturday's dead rubber might just be the perfect time for Wales to pounce and leave Australian shores on a winning note.

Ok,ok it does sound like a broken record - especially on this tour, where Wales' past two outings were also touted as the best chance for them get a win under the belt. But one feels if they can't strike now with this current crop of talent against a side that are yet to hit their straps, they never will. Well, at least not for a long while until they return to kangaroo country.

The toughest part for Wales though will no doubt be to pick themselves up after getting knocked down twice when the bell sounds for the final round. But the Welsh camp expressed this week that the emotion alone from their devastating defeat will be enough to drive them on.

Still, it will take a considerable psychological effort to bounce back for another crack at the Wallabies, who currently hold the upper hand and head into this match with their tails up.

As mentioned already, Australia have not been firing on all cylinders and have relied on some individual brilliance in their last two outings to get them home - just think Will Genia in Brisbane and Berrick Barnes (as well as Harris for that matter) in Melbourne.

Wallabies coach Robbie Deans knows better than anyone his side were let off the hook, but will also be the most relieved that - win or lose on Saturday - he still has a job having guided Australia to a series win before the inaugural Rugby Championship kicks off in August.

If rumours were true that Genia's try in the first Test saved Deans from getting shown the door, then Australia's series win slammed it shut while a whitewash will surely lock it for a few more years.

Besides clinching the series, last week's victory was also the hosts' sixth consecutive win over their Northern Hemisphere counterparts and are without a loss to the Welsh in their last 10 internationals in Australia dating back to 1969, when the tourists won 19-16 in Sydney.

Can the class of 2012 follow suit with a win in the same city nearly five decades later?

Ones to watch:

For Australia: Bad boy Kurtley Beale hasn't played any part in this series thus far, but has still been making the headlines for all the wrong reasons. The 23-year-old makes his return from a shoulder injury but it's also his first match since being involved in a late-night incident two weeks ago in Brisbane, for which he faces one charge of common assault for an alleged altercation with a bouncer. But for now the Rebel (no pun intended) is back in the Wallabies fold and raring to go, whilst his attacking flair will no doubt cause Wales a few problems they could certainly do without.

For Wales: There were cries to axe hooker Matthew Rees, lock Bradley Davies, fly-half Rhys Priestland and centre Ashley Beck from Wales' line-up, while there was also demands for in-form Justin Tipuric to replace skipper Sam Warburton at openside flank. However, caretaker coach Rob Howley has opted not to tinker with his starting XV and has given the five players a shot at redemption after wasting a golden opportunity in Melbourne. All eyes will be on the quintet to see if they can repay Howley's faith.

Head to head: With dry and sunny conditions forecast in Sydney for this afternoon clash, expect to see the ball given plenty of air as Australia's back three of Beale, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Digby Ioane slug it out with Wales' attacking trio Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert and George North. We can hardly wait as the speedsters gear up for a colossal attacking onslaught!

Previous results:

2012: Australia won 25-23 in Melbourne
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: The last two Tests were Wales' to lose and they did just that. Perhaps if they wore the underdogs tag, they wouldn't be under as much pressure. But unfortunately for them the pressure is on now than ever before to break their duck Down Under. Australia by four!

The teams:

Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 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 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Rob Simmons, 19 Dave Dennis, 20 Michael Hooper, 21 Nic White, 22 Anthony Fainga'a.

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 (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Luke Charteris, 19 Justin Tipuric, 20 Rhys Webb, 21 James Hook, 22 Scott Williams.

Date: Saturday, June 23
Venue: Allianz Stadium., Sydney
Kick-off: 15:00 (06:00 BST)
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Jonathon White (New Zealand)
Television match official: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)

By Dave Morris

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