Autumn Nations Series preview: Wales to get the better of Australia with narrow win in Cardiff

David Skippers
Wales v Australia Autumn Nations Series preview image 2022 - PA.jpg

There will be an air of desperation when Wales take on Australia in their Autumn Nations Series international at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday.

These two sides head into this encounter with morale a little low in both camps after they suffered disappointing defeats in their most recent matches.

Adding spice to this fixture is the fact that it will be a precursor to the teams’ Pool C clash at next year’s World Cup in France.

Wales were on the wrong end of a shock 13-12 loss to Georgia in Cardiff last weekend and that result follows a hard-fought 20-13 win over Argentina the previous week. Prior to that, they started their Autumn Nations Series campaign with a humiliating 55-23 defeat to New Zealand – a result which was a rude awakening for head coach Wayne Pivac and his charges as they were fancying their chances of running the All Blacks close.

However, last weekend’s loss to the Lelos – who will also be in Pool C at the global showpiece – is the result on Wales supporters’ lips at the moment and that defeat has had disastrous consequences as it saw them dropping from seventh to ninth on World Rugby’s official rankings list.

Meanwhile, Australia have found the going tough during their end-of-year tour as they have only managed one victory so far, from four matches played, despite being competitive in all the aforementioned fixtures.

Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie will be wondering when his team will catch a break as they have had little luck in recent weeks. After sealing a 16-15 win over Scotland at Murrayfield in their first tour match, they gave France a run for their money but lost their composure and eventually fell 30-29 in Paris.

There were changes aplenty for their next match against Italy – with several first choice players rested – but they came up short as the Azzurri sealed a nail-biting 28-27 triumph in Florence. Australia’s big guns returned against Ireland in Dublin last weekend and although they gave a good account of themselves, it wasn’t to be as their hosts clinched a narrow 13-10 win.

That encounter proved costly as they lost the services of Michael Hooper, Andrew Kellaway, Hunter Paisami, Dave Porecki, Taniela Tupou, Rob Valetini and Nic White to injury.

It means they head into this match severely understaffed and it will be interesting to see if they can end their campaign on a high against their hosts, who also have a lot to prove to their supporters.

Where the game will be won

Under Pivac’s guidance, Wales have tried to play the game at a high tempo and the same can be said of the Wallabies, who also employ a fast-paced style of play.

However, both these teams have not had the desired results while employing those tactics and it will be interesting to see how they approach this game. The forward battle will be huge and whoever receives the bulk of the possession should hold the upper-hand.

Wales and Australia do have exciting backline players in their ranks and with both sides expected to play expansively, it’s the performance of the backs which should ultimately decide the outcome of this game.

Last time they met

What they said

Pivac knows that a win is a must for his team and admitted that they are desperate to end their season on a high.

“Certainly, it’s a side we’ve selected to get a result which we’re desperately seeking. They’ve gelled well at the start of the week, and we look forward to seeing how we go,” he said.

“Clearly this will be a step up – we’re playing an Australian side that will have a lot of changes for probably similar reasons to ourselves over the last month or so with injuries.

“What we do know about Australia is that they’re a dangerous side whatever team they put out. We’ve seen that with the close games in this autumn series. So we’re expecting a very, very tough battle.”

Meanwhile, Wallabies back-row Jed Holloway is excited by the prospect of facing Wales and expects a tough challenge from their hosts.

“We know Wales lost to Georgia last week so they’ll want to make amends for that,” he said.

“We’re going to need to be ready and I’m looking forward to it and can’t wait to get out there.”

Players to watch

This match will be a special occasion for experienced Wales number eight Taulupe Faletau, who is set to make his 100th Test appearance on Saturday. Since making his international debut for Wales against the Barbarians, the 32-year-old has been one of his country’s stars, who is renowned for producing outstanding performances on a consistent basis. Blessed with an excellent skill-set, a big heart and an astute rugby brain, Faletau is sure to be in the thick of the action from the outset and he will want nothing less than to celebrate his milestone match with a victory.

On the other side of the international scale is Wales’ Test debutant Joe Hawkins, who will face a baptism of fire against a fired-up Wallabies outfit. Despite being only 20, the inside centre is highly rated as he has caught the eye with some impressive performances for the Ospreys in the United Rugby Championship but will have to hit the ground running against Australia and not allow nerves to get the better of him.

Another veteran who will keen to impress is world record cap holder and ex-Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones, who last featured at Test level as a replacement in his side’s loss to the All Blacks on November 5. It will also be the 37-year-old’s first start for Wales since last season’s Six Nations and his experience will prove invaluable as he makes his 155th appearance for his country.

One player who enhanced his reputation for the Wallabies is young flyer Mark Nawaqanitawase, who, after impressing in his Test debut in a much changed run-on side against Italy, kicked on and shone in another losing cause against Ireland last weekend. The 22-year-old came to the fore with an outstanding all-round performance and asked plenty of questions of the Irish defence. He hit the ground running on attack and finished with 70 metres gained from 15 carries which included four broken tackles and a try assist.

Like Nawaqanitawase, his Waratahs team-mate Ben Donaldson made his Wallabies debut in their defeat against the Azzurri but unlike the speedster, he did not have a good game as he failed to convert a try in that game’s closing stages which would have secured his side a victory. Donaldson’s selection at fly-half for this match came as a surprise as Rennie opted for him despite also having the more experienced Noah Lolesio in his squad. The Waratahs playmaker will be determined to repay his coach for the faith shown in him.

Another player to keep an eye on from Australia is exciting openside flanker Fraser McReight, who has big boots to fill as he comes into the run-on side as a replacement for Michael Hooper. The Wallabies’ former skipper is amongst the walking wounded and McRreight will be expected to bring similar energy to the Wallabies’ onslaught as Hooper usually does, especially at the breakdown battle and on defence – two facets of play which should prove crucial in this encounter.

Main head-to-head

With both teams set to play expansively, the roles of the two scrum-halves will be crucial in the grander scheme of things and Tomos Williams of Wales and the Wallabies’ Jake Gordon will both be determined to catch the eye with polished performances. Both are competitive and feisty characters, who will give their all to give their respective teams an edge.

Despite Wales’ inconsistent form, Williams has been ever-present throughout the Autumn Nations Series and cemented himself as Wales’ first choice number nine courtesy of some solid showings against New Zealand, Argentina and Georgia. Meanwhile, Gordon gets his chance after White was ruled out due to concussion and the Waratahs scrum-half will be determined to show that he can drive his team to victory and end their tour on a high.

Prediction

With both sides heading into this match with their backs to the wall, it is difficult to predict the outcome of this encounter. Although it is two evenly matched sides, Australia’s injury issues should give the home side an edge and prove the difference in the end. Wales to win by four points.

Previous results

2021: Wales won 29-28 in Cardiff
2019: Wales won 29-25 in Tokyo (RWC)
2018: Wales won 9-6 in Cardiff
2017: Australia won 29-21 in Cardiff
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

The teams

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 George North, 12 Joe Hawkins, 11 Rio Dyer, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric (c), 6 Jac Morgan, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Gareth Thomas
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Ben Carter, 20 Josh Macleod, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Josh Adams

Australia: 15 Tom Wright, 14 Jordan Petaia, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 10 Ben Donaldson, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Langi Gleeson, 7 Fraser McReight, 6 Jed Holloway, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Nick Frost, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper (c)
Replacements: 16 Lachlan Lonergan, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Ned Hanigan, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Noah Lolesio, 23 Jock Campbell

Date: Saturday, November 26
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 15:15 GMT
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant Referees: Luke Pearce (England), Chris Busby (Ireland)
TMO: Joy Neville (Ireland)

READ MORE: Autumn Nations Series preview: Physical Springboks to end their year on a high by overpowering struggling England