Preview: Wales V Australia

Fri, 04 Nov 2016 08:49

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Statistics do not lie. Wales' record in the November Tests is a dismal one, notably against opponents from the Southern Hemisphere.

They face another stiff test against Australia on Saturday.

Since Warren Gatland took over in 2008, Wales have managed just two wins against the "big three" of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in 33 games in total.

Rob Howley is now temporarily at the helm with Gatland having been seconded to the British and Irish Lions ahead of the 2017 tour to New Zealand.

The former Wales scrumhalf can but hope that things improve compared to his last caretaker spell when Gatland had his first stint with the Lions, Howley overseeing four straight November losses to Argentina, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia in 2012.

But thoughts Howley might have had that Saturday posed the best opportunity to snap an 11-match losing streak against Australia dating back to 2008 have surely been diluted by the absence of three crucial forwards.

Captain Sam Warburton instead turns out for club side Cardiff Blues against Treviso in the Pro12 on Friday in a bid to regain match fitness after an injury lay-off, No.8 Taulupe Faletau is out with an injured knee and Alun Wyn Jones withdrew after the death of his father.

In-form Scarlets fullback/wing Liam Williams has also failed to recover from an ankle knock, meaning Leigh Halfpenny resumes business at the back in his first international in 14 months, with Alex Cuthbert recalled to the wing.

Wallaby coach Michael Cheika handed David Pocock a first start at blindside flank, with Tevita Kuridrani, at outside centre, the only other change to his starting XV.

Both Wales and Australia head into Saturday's game with just three wins from their last 11 Tests, but Wales skipper Gethin Jenkins and the straight-talking Cheika played down any significance.

"We've come up close a couple of times and obviously lost in the last play of the game a few times," said prop Jenkins, Wales' most capped player.

Six of the last 11 losses to Australia have been in single digits.

"They're a quality team. We know we've got to be on the top of our game to get a result against them and Saturday will be no different.

"They're coming here on the back of what's been some improved performances in the Rugby Championship and they'll be looking at their past history against us to try and get that victory."

Cheika, who has tasted success in the Rugby Championship, Super Rugby, European Cup and Pro12, has come under criticism in Australia for the team's string of disappointing results.

The Wallabies were World Cup finalists and more recently Rugby Championship runners-up, but since losing to New Zealand a year ago, there has been a six-match losing streak including a 3-0 whitewash by England and a record 42-6 defeat by the All Blacks, all at home.

"I don't know if anyone's thinking about 12 in a row when you haven't won as many games as we should've won this year," Cheika said.

"That hasn't even popped up on anyone's radar. All that stuff is exactly what it is - the past. It gives us nothing on Saturday and gives them nothing either. The two teams on match day, putting their best rugby forward, and the better team will win - that's how it always boils down."

The Welsh have never won more than half of their games played in a year-end series since its introduction with the advent of professionalism in 1996.

But for both Wales and Australia, there is the added incentive of winning to improve their World Rugby rankings.

The Wallabies currently sit third behind New Zealand and England, with Wales fifth.

Both teams will be bidding to nail down a top-four spot in an effort to secure what should be an "easier" pool draw for the 2019 World Cup in Japan, to be made in Kyoto in May.

While Wales have the Six Nations to further improve their standing, the Wallabies have just this series of matches to prove their worth.

Players to watch:

For Wales: The return of Leigh Halfpenny will be closely watched and in the absence of Liam Williams, Alex Cuthbert will also have his share of the spotlight. The revamped loose trio of Ross Moriarty, Justin Tipuric and Dan Lydiate will have a massive job to do.

For Australia: Bernard Foley, back at flyhalf, will have a key role to play, while the decision to go with two openside flanks - Michael Hooper and David Pocock - will also have a significant bearing on the outcome of the game.

Head to head: You have two world class fullbacks in Leigh Halfpenny (especially for his goal-kicking and defensive skills) against Israel Folau (best know for his aerial skills and attacking prowess). While there are good battles throughout, the other significant face-off is at flyhalf - Dan Biggar (Wales) against Bernard Foley (Australia) - the puppet masters pulling the strings. Then there is the breakdown battle - Justin Tipuric and Dan Lydiate (Wales) against Michael Hooper and David Pocock (Australia).

Recent results:
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 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

Prediction: Neither team has been in good form recently - Wales having won just three of their last 10 Tests and on a four-match losing streak), while the Wallabies also on just three from 10, but having won two of their last four matches. Australia certainly look the more settled and with fewer injuries in key positions. We feel the Wallabies will edge Wales in a thriller - by less than 10 points.

Teams:

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Gethin Jenkins (captain).
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Cory Hill, 20 James King, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Hallam Amos.

Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Henry Speight, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Lopeti Timani, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 David Pocock, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (captain), 1 Scott Sio.   
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 James Slipper, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Scott Fardy, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Quade Cooper, 23 Sefa Naivalu.

Date: Saturday, November 5
Venue: Millennium Stadium. Cardiff
Kick-off: 14.30 (14.30 GMT; 01.30 AEDT Sunday, November 6 )
Expected weather: Breezy and mainly dry, with some sunny spells for most, but feeling cold. The odd shower remains possible. High of 9°C and a low of 3°C
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)

Agence France-Presse & rugby365com