Preview: Wales v Australia
Preview: Wales v AustraliaSHARE
Australia will look to end a see-saw 2011 with victory over Wales on Saturday as they bid to repeat their recent third place playoff win at the World Cup.
A bronze medal was not the summit of the Wallabies’ ambitions when they travelled to coach Robbie Deans’s native New Zealand having won the Tri-Nations this season.
But a comprehensive semifinal defeat by the All Blacks, the eventual champions, left Australia with much to ponder.
Some observers have accused Deans of building sides that don’t play to Australia’s traditional strengths, but the ‘Wallaby way’ of running rugby is set to be on show this weekend against a Wales side whose preferred style is also to attack with ball in hand.
One area where Australia might glean some useful benefit from a match tacked on to the end of a busy schedule is in seeing how James O’Connor performs in his first Test match start at flyhalf.
O’Connor, deputising for the injured Quade Cooper, looked good in open play and as a goal-kicker during Australia’s 60-11 rout of the Barbarians at Twickenham last weekend, even if the invitational side’s defence was woeful.
Cooper has been out of action ever since pulling up with a knee injury during the playoff match at Eden Park.
Australia centre Berrick Barnes, a proven and composed playmaker, has recovered from a back problem but fellow midfielder Rob Horne is struggling with a hamstring injury suffered during training on Thursday and could be replaced by Anthony Fainga’a.
Meanwhile lock Rob Simmons replaces Nathan Sharpe in the only change to the Wallaby pack from their October clash with the Welsh.
Additional incentive for the hosts comes with the knowledge that this match will be Wales wing Shane Williams’s last match before his Test retirement and the bulk of the Millennium Stadium crowd will be hoping the double Grand Slam winner, whose 57 tries are a Welsh record, bows out in style.
“We experienced ourselves how powerful the additional motivation of playing for a mate can be when ‘Sharpie’ (Sharpe) had his 100th Test in Auckland (against Wales) recently,” Deans said.
“There was no way any of the other players wanted to let him down.
“I have no doubts that the Welsh lads will be feeling just the same this week as we did in Auckland. Emotion plays a powerful role in competitive sport.”
After winning just once in four visits to Cardiff between 2005 and 2008, Australia will bid for a third straight Millennium victory this weekend.
Wales welcome back captain Sam Warburton, who missed the 21-18 playoff defeat after being sent off in the World Cup semi-final loss to France, and his breakdown battle with opposing openside flanker David Pocock provides an intriguing sub-plot.
The Welsh are without injured locks Luke Charteris and Alun-Wyn Jones, props Adam Jones and Paul James, plus centre Jonathan Davies.
Cardiff prop Scott Andrews makes his first Wales start in place of Adam Jones in a side showing six changes from the World Cup clash, with backs James Hook and Mike Phillips unavailable due to commitments with French clubs Perpignan and Bayonne respectively.
“We know Australia will be tough this weekend,” Gatland said.
“In the game against the Barbarians they made a very slow start, but as the game went on they looked very strong, especially in the second half.”
Players to Watch:
For Wales: The main focus will undoubtedly be on wing Shane Williams, who would love a victory and another try for a fairytale ending to his international career. On the other wing Geroge North will want to enhance his reputation as one of the most dangerous attacker in the world out wide. Up front there will be some pressure on Gethin Jenkins to hold the scrums together in the absence of his front row partner Adam Jones, while Toby Faletau will offer some excitement from the back of the scrum.
For Australia: All eyes will be on James O’Connor in the No.10 jersey, where he has looked at home against the BaaBaas and when called upon by the Western Force to provide more of a playmaker role. Will Genia is always a potential game-breaker and will test rookie Lloyd Williams around the fringes. In the pack skipper James Horwill must lead from the front and together with the tight five they will need to be at their best to provide a solid platform for the backs to play off.
Head to Head: The battle at the breakdown will be fierce as Sam Warburton and David Pocock compete for the bragging rights for the first time, after Warburton was suspended during the World Cup allowing Pocock to have it all his own way in the bronze medal match. The two will need to be at their very best and the openside who wins this contest could win the match for his team.
2011: Australia won 21-18, Auckland
2010: Australia won 25-16, Cardiff
2009: Australia won 33-12, Cardiff
2008: Wales won 21-18, Cardiff
2007: Australia won 32-20, Cardiff
2007: Australia won 31-0, Brisbane
2007: Australia won 29-23, Sydney
2006: Match drawn 29-29, Cardiff
Prediction: Wales have all the motivation they need to claim a dramatic win for Shane Williams and continue to build on their impressive form at the World Cup, while Australia showed last week against the BaaBaas that they intend to make the most of their tour. Wales will be brave and tough to beat, but the Wallabies have enough special players to snatch a victory. Australia by less than 5.
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (captain), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Ian Evans, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Huw Bennett, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Ryan Jones, 19 Justin Tipuric, 20 Tavis Knoyle, 21 Dan Biggar, 22 Alex Cuthbert.
Australia: 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Anthony Fainga’a, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 James O’Connor, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 James Horwill (captain), 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Nathan Sharpe, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Ben Lucas, 21 Ben Tapuai, 22 Nick Phipps.
Date: Saturday, December 3
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 14.30 (14.30 GMT)
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan
Assistant referees: Dave Pearson, Jérôme Garces
TMO: Geoff Warren
AFP and rugby365.com