PREVIEW: Wales v Australia
WORLD CUP DRESS REHEARSAL: Psychological one-upmanship will be up for grabs when Wales host Australia on Saturday in a dress rehearsal of what has been billed a pool-deciding match at next year’s Rugby World Cup.
The two sides will clash on September 29, 2019, at Tokyo Stadium in what many reckon will be the game that decides the winner of a Pool D that also includes Fiji, Georgia and Uruguay.
So there is all to play for at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, not least to boost confidence levels and test squads’ strength in depth.
Warren Gatland’s Wales come into the fixture on the back of a 21-10 victory over Scotland, their sixth win on the trot.
The Wallabies, coached by Michael Cheika, won just two of their six Rugby Championship matches in an indifferent season, but have racked up 13 straight wins over the Welsh since 2008.
Gatland, who made three changes to his side but kept Gareth Anscombe at flyhalf ahead of Dan Biggar, said the Scotland game had been the perfect aperitif to larger fare.
“In the past, we haven’t been great starters in the autumn,” the New Zealander said.
“It’s tough when you haven’t been together for four months and you normally come up against either an Australia, South Africa or New Zealand, who have just come off a Rugby Championship. It is not the easiest thing in the world. Plus, there is a lot of expectation.
“The fact we have that first game under our belt, we have a win, we have some confidence, hopefully we’ll be a lot better from that performance last week to take on Australia.”
Gatland actually oversaw the 2008 victory over Australia, as part of his first autumn series since taking over as Wales coach following the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
But he has since seen his side go down 13 times, on many occasion by a mere handful of points.
“We’re disappointed with the run of losses we’ve had against them,” he acknowledged.
“But if look at how close a lot of those games have been, I think there’s been something like seven points the difference between us and them on average over that period, less than a score in it on most occasions. They have all gone right down to the wire.
“Unfortunately, in some of those we have conceded points in the final minutes having been ahead.”
Looking ahead to the World Cup in Japan, Gatland added: “This game is important for the next 12 months. It is not the most important, the pool game at the World Cup is going to be the most important one.
“This will definitely be important from a confidence point of view and yes it’s been well-documented that they’re under different sorts of pressures than we are, but the pressure for us is being favourites and being able to handle it.”
Cheika made four changes to his starting XV from the one that lost most recently to New Zealand.
But the Australian was adamant that the match was a “great opportunity for us to take their scalp”.
“Every game is a Test match,” Cheika said. “Don’t look at the things further down the road, just have a look at what you have to get right for Saturday and play your best. It is a great opportunity for us. We love playing at the Principality Stadium, a great stadium.”
Wales, he added, are “always very competitive across the board. Gatland is one of the best coaches in the world and he has had success with the [British and Irish] Lions and Wales. He has got a very well organised, well-drilled team and that is why they are at the position they are”.
Players to watch:
For Wales: Gareth Anscombe will be looking for another solid performance in the No.10 jersey and he has plenty of talent to make use of on his outside. Jonathan Davies is one of the world’s best midfielders, while George North is a lethal finisher. In the pack, Alun Wyn Jones’ experience will be vital and he is a force in the physical exchanges. Justin Tipuric and Dan Lydiate will also be key figures in the breakdown battle.
For Australia: Samu Kerevi returns to the starting XV in the No.13 jersey and his pace and power should keep the Welsh defenders busy out wide. Fullback Dane Haylett-Petty has been one of Australia’s best players this season and Wales will do well not to give him some time and space with the ball. In the pack, Adam Coleman is back in the second row after missing the final Bledisloe Cup match. He adds some much-needed muscle to the Wallaby pack and he will be a key figure in set pieces. Tolu Latu will start in the No.2 jersey.
Head to head: The battle between the two loose trios should be an entertaining one. There is plenty of experience there and it will be interesting to see if the ‘Pooper’ [David Pocock and Michael Hooper] combination will be effective in Cardiff. Jonathan Davies will have a big challenge marking Samu Kerevi in the midfield. However, Davies has plenty of experience on the international stage and will not be too worried. The flyhalf battle will also be an intriguing one. Bernard Foley will be looking for a big performance at 10 after being dropped during the season, while Gareth Anscombe will have a big opportunity to stake a claim for the No.10 jersey ahead of Dan Biggar for next year’s World Cup.
2017: Australia won 29-21, Cardiff
2016: Australia won 32-8, Cardiff
2015: Australia won 15-6, London (WC 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 25-23, Melbourne
2012: Australia won 27-19, Brisbane
2011: Australia won 24-18, Cardiff
Prediction: It’s been a long time since Wales beat Australia and Warren Gatland’s side might still be a bit rusty. However, we think Wales are good enough to take this one on Saturday – by five points.
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Liam Williams.
Australia: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Sefa Naivalu, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Sekope Kepu, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Ned Hanigan, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Matt To’omua, 23 Jack Maddocks.
Date: Saturday, November 10
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 17.20 (17.20 GMT; 04.20 AEDT Sunday, November 11)
Expected weather: There will be showers with a high of around 12°C and a low of 8°C. There will also be a strong breeze.
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
AFP & @rugby365com