PREVIEW: Wales v Australia

Fri, 10 Nov 2017 09:56
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NOVEMBER INTERNATIONAL SEASON: Warren Gatland is banking on increased finesse behind the scrum to help end Wales' desperate run of defeats by Australia when the two sides meet at Cardiff's Principality Stadium on Saturday.

This week marks the New Zealander's tenth anniversary as Wales coach and Gatland would love nothing more than for the side to halt a run of 12 successive losses to the Wallabies, with the last Welsh win against Australia back in 2008.  

For much of his time in charge, Wales's back-play has been built on bursting through the gainline, with inside centre Jamie Roberts the crash-ball carrier of choice -- the so-called 'Warrenball' approach.

But experienced midfielder Roberts isn't even on the bench this weekend, with Gatland rolling the dice by pairing Owen Williams at inside centre alongside fly-half Dan Biggar in a twin playmaker system.

Wing Steffan Evans and flankers Josh Navidi and Aaron Shingler will also start, with captain Alun Wyn Jones one of seven British and Irish Lions in the home side.

"We have had our ups and downs in that 10-year period, but it has been exciting and challenging," Gatland said. "Now we're going to change the way we play a little bit."

Gatland, returning to Wales duty after overseeing the touring British and Irish Lions 1-1 series draw against world champions New Zealand in June and July, added: "This team is a reward for some players. Aaron has proved himself over the last year and Josh Navidi has played everywhere across the back-row.

"Owen has a pretty good record at centre. Everyone has talked about his attack, but what is going to win Saturday's game is defence."

"Australia has a massive midfield and two direct wings so I don't think they're going to be too worried about throwing the ball around. I think they're going to be pretty direct.

"For us the result is important, we want to win every game," insisted Gatland, who has urged supporters to be patient with his side as they adapt to their new style of play which the coach hopes will stand them in good stead for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

In centre Jonathan Davies, No 8 Taulupe Faletau and skipper Jones, a commanding lock, Wales still have plenty of physical presence.

But they will head into Saturday's match as underdogs having been hammered 32-8 by Australia in Cardiff last year under caretaker coach Rob Howley, in charge while Gatland was seconded to the Lions.

"I don’t know what it is, but I wouldn’t say Australia are a bogey team," said Jones. "We have come very close to beating them and in some games we felt we should have. It is not necessarily a curse."

Australia, who have beaten Japan and New Zealand in their last two games, will arrive in Cardiff in fine form, with Michael Cheika's side captained by flanker Michael Hooper.

Vice-captains Will Genia and Bernard Foley team up at scrumhalf, with Kurtley Beale at fullback.

The Wallabies boast 293 international caps among their replacements alone but Cheika was wary of a remodelled Wales team.
"I've seen the new guys Wales have picked and they are quality players," said Cheika. "I think that debutants give you a certain power and they can change a side.

"One thing I've learnt in my career is to expect anything to happen on any given day. It's the first game of the series for Wales and I am sure there will be a change of some sort."

As for Australia having some sort of 'edge' on Wales, Cheika said: "I've never been a believer in a psychological barrier. It's all about consistency and then when you get to game day, the match starts at 0-0."

Player to watch:

For Wales: You will start by looking at the three newcomers - Scarlets wing Steff Evans, Gloucester's centre Owen Williams and Cardiff Blues flank Josh Navidi. Then there are the usual suspects - Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams and Dan Biggar. However, the loose trio of Taulupe Faletau, Navidi and Aaron Shingler could hold the key.

For Australia: Kurtley Beale at fullback is interesting, especially since he was such a star at inside centre in recent weeks. Tevita Kuridrani and Samu Kerevi make for a more forceful midfield - the Wallabies going for brawn over brain here. The return of Will Genia at scrumhalf will compensate for the - somewhat. Michael Hooper, as always, will be a joy to watch.

Head to head: You would pay good money to watch Leigh Halfpenny (Wales) against Kurtley Beale (Australia) - the skills of both are worth it. Although there are indeed quality head-to-head battles all over the field, the midfield could be particularly interesting - the Wales pair of Jonathan Davies (1.86m, 104kg) and Owen Williams against Australia's Fijian combination of Tevita Kuridrani (1.94m, 102kg) and Samuel Kerevi (1.86m, 105kg)

Recent results:
 2016: Australia won 32-8, Cardiff
2015: Australia won 15-6, London (World Cup pool match)
2014: Australia won 33-28, Cardiff
2013: Australia won 30-26, Cardiff
2012: Australia won 14-12, Cardiff
2012: Australia won 20-19, Sydney
2012: Australia won 23-25, Melbourne
2012: Australia won 27-19, Brisbane
2011: Australia won 24-18, Cardiff
2011: Australia won 21-18, Auckland (World Cup third-place play-off)

Prediction: The number of times that there a single score separated these two teams is astonishing. Australia has won their last 12 games against Wales and 15 of their last 16 encounters. It is likely to follow the same pattern - the Wallabies winning a close battle - seven points or less.

Teams:

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Owen Williams, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Sam Cross, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Owen Watkin, 23 Hallam Amos.

Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Marika Koroibete, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Reece Hodge, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 Sean McMahon, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Scott Sio.          
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Matt Philip, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Karmichael Hunt, 23 Henry Speight.

Date: Saturday, November 11
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 17.15 (17.15 GMT; 04.15 AEDT, Sunday, November 12)
Expected weather: It doesn't really matter if they close the roof, but there will be a little rain from tropical rainstorm Rina. High of 13°C and a low of 2°C
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Ian Tempest (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)

Agence France-Presse & @rugby365com