Preview: Wales v Australia
Fri, 29 Nov 2013 07:00
Our focus has changed a bit this November
Australian coach Ewen McKenzie said his side would treat their tour finale against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday as a 'Grand Final'.
Both sides are in the same 2015 World Cup pool as hosts England and, with Australia having won their last eight Tests against Wales, McKenzie is keen the Wallabies extend that run at the Millennium Stadium.
"We're treating this week a little bit like our Grand Final," McKenzie said.
"I think everyone will be extremely motivated by the circumstances of the game and the opportunity to play Wales in their backyard."
Of the six players given one-game bans ahead of Australia's 21-15 win over Scotland last weekend following late night drinking exploits in Dublin, only two - backs Nick Cummins and Adam Ashley-Cooper - have been recalled, with the starting pack unchanged.
Christian Leali'ifano now moves to his favoured role of inside centre, with Ashley-Cooper alongside him in midfield.
Saturday's match will also see flyhalf Quade Cooper, frozen out by former coach Robbie Deans after labelling the environment created by the New Zealander as "toxic", win his 50th cap.
"To get to 50 games is an outstanding achievement and it's fitting that he reaches the milestone at the end of a really good individual season," said McKenzie, who knows the 25-year-old well from their time together working at Queensland and made Cooper his Wallaby vice-captain to skipper Ben Mowen.
"But, he won't be too caught up in the milestone externally, his focus will be on how he fits into the team and his responsibility of managing this game," added former prop McKenzie, a member of Australia's 1991 World Cup-winning team.
Wales boss Warren Gatland enjoyed success against the Wallabies by coaching the British and Irish Lions to a 2-1 series win in Australia earlier this year.
But Wales' record against Southern Hemisphere giants South Africa, New Zealand and Australia since he became their coach in 2008 is dire, with just one win and 21 defeats.
Earlier this week, the New Zealander tried to downplay that poor run of results by saying: "People have got to be aware that probably in the past we've used [the November internationals] as a preparation for the Six Nations because that's our bread and butter - these are friendlies.
"Our focus has changed a bit this November."
But, in comments to travelling Australia media, an unimpressed McKenzie said: "They've decided suddenly it's time to actually go out and beat those teams, I don't know why they weren't deciding that last year or the year before.
"He [Gatland] has been at it since 2008, he's had plenty of time to make that decision."
This year Gatland coached the British and Irish Lions to a 2-1 series win in Australia and 11 of the players from that squad are in his Wales starting line-up, including fit-again wing Alex Cuthbert and powerhouse flyer George North.
Completing the back three is fullback Leigh Halfpenny, man of the series in Australia but still eager to transfer that form from the red shirt of the Lions to the red of Wales.
"We have been close many times now, one or two points in it," Halfpenny said.
"It has been very frustrating at times when we've come off and felt like we played the better rugby but it didn't quite win the game.
"Now we have to go to that next level by beating the southern hemisphere teams like Australia," added Halfpenny, a nominee for the International Rugby Board player of the year award.
Had it not been for a 20-13 defeat by England in their tour opener, Australia would be on the verge of equalling the Wallaby Grand Slam of 1984 where England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales were all defeated on the one tour.
But a run of three straight wins - they've also beaten Italy on this trip - is Australia's best of the year.
Players to watch:
For Wales: The home team has some great strike-runners - fullback Leigh Halfpenny and wing George North, but the key will be how flyhalf Dan Biggar directs the traffic and whether erratic scrumhalf Mike Phillips has a good day at the office. Captain Sam Warburton is another Welshman who tends to have the occasional disappointing game.
For Australia: It is always worth watching fullback Israel Folau, but the return of booze buddies Adam Ashley-Cooper and Nick Cummins will automatically put the spotlight on them Quade Cooper will look to weave his magic and Will Genia is also due a good game.
Head to head: The most intriguing would be at flyhalf, where the more structured play of Dan Biggar (Wales) will oppose enigmatic and sublimely talented Quade Cooper (Australia). As is the case in every Test they play, the Wallaby scrum will be in the spotlight - the Welsh front row of Rhodri Jones, Richard Hibbard and Gethin Jenkins looking to put the heat on Australian counterparts Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore and James Slipper.
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
2011: Australia won 21-18, Auckland (World Cup third-place play-off)
2010: Australia won 25-16, Cardiff
2009: Australia won 30-12, Cardiff
2008: Wales won 21-18, Cardiff
2007: Australia 32-20, Cardiff (World Cup pool match)
Prediction: As the statistics show, Wales have lost their last eight Tests against Australia, albeit four of those reverses have been by three points or fewer - most recently in last year's fixture at the Millennium Stadium where Kurtley Beale's late try condemned the Welsh to a 12-14 defeat. These stats tell a story of their own - the Welsh lack where it matters most - in the top six centimetres. That is why Australia are likely to win again - probably by less than 10 points.
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Owen Williams, 12 Scott Williams, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (captain), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Ian Evans, 4 Alun Wyn Jones, 3 Rhodri Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Ryan Jones, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Liam Williams.
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Joe Tomane, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Christian Leali'ifano, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben Mowen (captain), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 James Horwill, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Kane Douglas, 20 Dave Dennis, 21 Nic White, 22 Mike Harris, 23 Bernard Foley.
Date: Saturday, December 30
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 17.00 (17.00 GMT; 04.00, Sunday, December 1 AEDT)
Expected weather: A chilly start, then a bright day with plenty of sunshine. However, later in the afternoon, it is expected to turn cloudier. High of 8°C to low of 2°C
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Alain Rolland (Ireland), John Lacey (Ireland)
TMO: Jim Yuille (Scotland)
AFP & rugby365
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