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Australia v Wales - Teams and Prediction

FIRST TEST PREVIEW: All-action captain Liam Wright is pledging to lead from the front as the Wallabies strive to usher in a golden new era under coach Joe Schmidt.

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The Wallabies host Wales in Sydney on Saturday in their first Test under Schmidt, anxious to make amends for the humbling and record-breaking 6-40 loss to the same opponents that sent Australia crashing out of last year’s World Cup.

Only seven players remain from that diabolical campaign in France but Wright, back in the national side for the first time since 2020, insists the scars remain.

The 26-year-old is confident those survivors can use the ordeal to help the Wallabies rise again from their lowly world No.9 ranking.

“That’s one of the things I’ve been really impressed with,” Wright said at Friday’s captain’s run at the Sydney Football Stadium.

“There’s been lots of talk about the World Cup – it hasn’t just been swept under the carpet,”

“It’s been a lot of learnings. We’ve showed a lot of clips from that game; areas that we could have capitalised on but didn’t and areas that they capitalised on that we need to be wary of.

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“But the boys have really taken it upon themselves not to just hide away, shy from the fact, but to actually learn from it, grow themselves.

“Not only as players but as people, because it was a challenging time.”

The preview continues below…

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The moving on officially begins on Saturday and starts with Wright taking firm charge of Schmidt’s new-look outfit by walking the walk more than talking the talk.

“I’ll just bring a team-first mindset,” the hard-nosed blindside flank said.

“That’s all I’ve ever tried to do when I play for the team and that’s all I’m going to try and do.

“I’ve got plenty of leaders to lean on, plenty of experienced guys in this team. So, I’m not going to try and do anything above and beyond.

“I’ll just focus on what the team needs and hopefully let my rugby do the talking.”

The South African-born loose forward has had to bide his time to add to his five Test caps, with a run of injuries keeping him out of the Wallabies picture for four years.

He confessed to being “fully surprised” by his appointment, which he only learned of during Schmidt’s team announcement earlier this week.

“I was pretty nervous Tuesday morning, trying to hopefully be in the 23 and I was privileged to be able to start,” Wright said.

“And then I saw the little captain’s armband underneath and it was a big surprise.

“A really special moment, not only to be back in Wallaby gold but to be able to lead the boys, it’s just been an awesome week.”

While his left-field elevation may have raised eyebrows among casual observers, Wright’s captaincy came as no shock to his teammates.

Centre Josh Flook, who will make his Test debut against Wales, endorsed the Queensland Reds’ co-captain as unquestionably the right man for the job.

“He’ll just be everywhere,” Flook said.

“He’ll lead from the front foot. He’ll run around the field. He’ll put his head into the dark places where I don’t want to put my head.

“He’s not a big speaker at all but, when he talks, you listen. He has some very good things to say.”

Despite their last-up shellacking of the Wallabies, the 10th-ranked Welsh are big underdogs with bookmakers as they chase a first Test win in Australia since 1969.

“We’ve had a good week of preparations here in Sydney and are excited to get out on the field on Saturday,” said Wales head coach Warren Gatland.

“This first Test is going to be a great challenge for us.

“Test matches are all about fine margins and we know we need to be accurate, keep our discipline and stay in the fight for the full 80 minutes.

“There’s a lot of talent within the Australia squad and we know they will want to come out firing and put in a performance against us this weekend.”

Players to watch

For Australia: All eyes will be on captain Liam Wright as a new era begins. Meanwhile, Joe Schmidt has handed debuts to Western Force captain and lock Jeremy Williams and Reds centre Josh Flook. Williams will combine in the second row with Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, who was recalled for the first time since 2021. Hooker Matt Faessler earns his first Wallabies start, alongside props Taniela Tupou and veteran James Slipper. There will also be a spotlight on Noah Lolesio to see if he can run the show at flyhalf.

For Wales: Wing Josh Hathaway was handed a Wales debut with Ben Thomas starting at flyhalf. It will be Thomas’ first appearance since 2021 despite playing most of his rugby at centre for Cardiff this year. Ellis Bevan, who won his first cap in the 13-41 defeat to South Africa two weeks ago, continues at scrumhalf. Archie Griffin was selected at tighthead prop in his first senior start, with captain Dewi Lake at hooker and Gareth Thomas completing the front row.

Prediction

@rugby365com: Australia by six points.

Teams:

Australia: 15 Tom Wright, 14 Andrew Kellaway, 13 Josh Flook, 12 Hunter Paisami, 11 Filipo Daugunu, 10 Noah Lolesio, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Rob Valetini, 7 Fraser McReight, 6 Liam Wright (captain), 5 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 4 Jeremy Williams, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Matt Faessler, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Billy Pollard, 17 Issac Kailea, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Angus Blyth, 20 Charlie Cale, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Tom Lynagh, 23 Dylan Pietsch.

Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Josh Hathaway, 13 Owen Watkin, 12 Mason Grady, 11 Rio Dyer, 10 Ben Thomas, 9 Ellis Bevan, 8 Aaron Wainwright, 7 Tommy Reffell, 6 Taine Plumtree, 5 Dafydd Jenkins, 4 Christ Tshiunza, 3 Archie Griffin, 2 Dewi Lake (captain), 1 Gareth Thomas.
Replacements: 16 Evan Lloyd, 17 Kemsley Mathias, 18 Harri O’Connor, 19 Cory Hill, 20 James Botham, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Sam Costelow, 23 Nick Tompkins.

Date: Saturday, July 6
Venue: Sydney Football Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 19.45 (10.45 BST, 09.45 GMT)
Expected weather: It will be cloudy with a temperature around 11°C with a slight breeze.
Referee: Pierre Brousset
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe, James Doleman
TMO: Marius Jonker

AAP, @WelshRugbyUnion & @rugby365com

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