Autumn Nations Series: Five talking points ahead of Wales v Australia including both coaches being under pressure

David Skippers
Wayne Pivac and Dave Rennie Wales v Australia Five storylines image 2022.jpg

We’re set for a fascinating battle in the final round of the Autumn Nations Series, where Wales take on the Wallabies in Cardiff on Saturday.

This Test’s build-up has been dominated by the poor form of both teams, who will be determined to get one over the other in a bid to finish the international season on a high.

Planet Rugby delves into five talking points ahead of the Test at the Principality Stadium.

Two desperate sides facing off

Wales and Australia head into this encounter with their backs to the wall after indifferent results over the past month and will go all out to finish this year’s Autumn Nations Series campaign on a high. Both sides managed just one victory during their respective campaigns, although Wales have only played three matches so far compared to Australia’s four.

It’s little comfort for Wayne Pivac and his troops though as apart from a hard-fought 20-13 triumph over Argentina, they were comprehensively beaten in their opening match against New Zealand (55-23) before suffering a shock 13-12 defeat against Georgia last weekend.

Meanwhile, the Wallabies’ only win was in their tour opener against Scotland (16-15) and although they’ve held their own in their three other encounters, they all ended in frustrating defeats to France (28-29), Italy (28-27) and Ireland (13-10). That sets up a fascinating battle between two desperate teams at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.

Head coaches under pressure

With these teams heading into this fixture with such underwhelming records, there has been inevitable criticism which means the buck stops with the head coaches, Pivac and Wallabies mentor Dave Rennie, who are both yet to convince since taking over the coaching reins of their respective teams after the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

After his side’s defeat to the Lelos, Pivac received plenty of criticism with former Wales captain Gwyn Jones saying he is “out of his depth” at Test level and shown little progress as the national team’s head coach. It’s difficult to argue with that assessment as under Pivac’s guidance Wales have won just three out of 11 Tests in 2022.

Rennie has fared little better, with the Wallabies winning a meagre four out of 13 matches this year and although his side has been competitive throughout their year-end tour, he is in a results-driven business and is not producing in that department.

Milestone for Taulupe Faletau

Playing in 100 Tests is a significant achievement in anybody’s book and Faletau deserves plenty of praise. 95 of those Tests were for his country and the other five international appearances have been in the colours of the British and Irish Lions.

The 32-year-old has been a great servant for both those teams since making his Test debut for Wales against the Barbarians in 2011 and has been a star performer for his country during several successful Six Nations campaigns, at the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cups in New Zealand and Japan, while, in 2019, his absence was keenly felt at the global showpiece in Japan when he was sidelined with a collarbone injury. He has also been a strong performer for the Lions on tours to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in 2013, 2017 and 2021 respectively.

It’s fair to say that Faletau has been amongst the world’s best number eights for several years now as he delivers the goods on a consistent basis and is the type of player which you would rather have on your side than on the opposition’s. He will be determined to celebrate his milestone by helping his country to return to the victory trail.

Depleted Wallabies

Australia head into this match after undergoing one of the worst seasons in their Test history, with head coach Rennie forced to use 50 players in 14 Tests, which is the equal-most used in year after he also used the same number of players in 2021. The main reason for that high number has been a plethora of injuries which has plagued the side since the build-up to their series against England and for the rest of the year.

Heading into Saturday’s clash with Wales, Rennie only has 25 players available for selection from his original 36-player squad. That means 11 players had to withdraw due to injuries of which seven – Michael Hooper, Andrew Kellaway, Hunter Paisami, Dave Porecki, Taniela Tupou, Rob Valetini and Nic White – were sustained during an attritional showdown with Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin last weekend.

With most of those players being first choice players and real stalwarts for Australian rugby in recent years, the Wallabies head into their clash with Wales with their backs to the proverbial wall. However, it also presents their replacements, who are mostly fringe players, with a chance to impress Rennie, especially with the Rugby World Cup in France being less than a year away.

All eyes on Test debutant

With Owen Watkin ruled out of this fixture due to a knee injury, Pivac has handed a debut to promising 20-year-old Joe Hawkins, who has caught the eye with some impressive performances for the Ospreys at United Rugby Championship level and for Wales’ U20 side during the year.

Blessed with outstanding distribution and decision-making skills, Hawkins was first picked to represent his country’s U20 side at the age of 17 and he has been a regular at that level ever since. A powerful ball carrier, who also can hit the line at pace, Hawkins can also vary his game as he possesses soft hands. Those playmaking skills will be expected to put his team-mates into gaps on attack and he faces a stern test against a seasoned campaigner in Wallabies inside centre Reece Hodge.

READ MORE: Autumn Nations Series: Five talking points ahead of England v Springboks including Manu Tuilagi’s milestone