Preview: Wales v Australia
Preview: Wales v AustraliaSHARE
Statistics do not read well for Wales going into their last international Test match of 2012 against Australia at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
The defending Six Nations Grand Slam champions are on a six-match losing streak and have so far been trumped by Argentina, Samoa and New Zealand in their November matches, while the Wallabies bounced back from a surprise mauling in France to beat England and Italy.
Saturday's game will be the sixth between Wales and Australia in 13 months, the Wallabies winning all previous five encounters, including the third-place play-off at the World Cup and a closely-fought three-Test series on Australian soil in the summer.
If that record wasn't bad enough, Wales must beat Australia to remain in the top eight seeds for Monday's 2015 World Cup draw in London, teams in the top two bands of four receiving a more favourable group.
Should Australia win it would be their eighth consecutive win against the Welsh since 2009. And if that margin is by more than 15 points it would also mean that they leapfrog South Africa to finish the year as they started: ranked second in the world.
"There's very little between us," Australia coach Robbie Deans admitted, highlighting his team's 11-point combined winning total in the three matches in the summer. "There was nothing in them.
"There are not too many surprises in international rugby. In and since the World Cup, defences have ramped up and part of that is in the conditioning and Wales are one of the most conditioned.
"Wales will throw everything at us, no doubt."
But Deans said that the Wallabies would be looking to finish their long season, in which they've played an incredible 16 Tests, on a high ahead of a well-earned break, the resumption of Super 15 rugby and the 2013 tour of the British and Irish Lions.
"This is our last outing and we don't want to go into summer unhappy with our last performance," the New Zealander said.
"It's the last opportunity for our group before the Lions and also the Wales players to present themselves."
Deans named David Pocock in his starting XV, the openside flanker who led Australia to the three-Test clean sweep in June having recovered from a knee injury that has ruled him since the Wallabies' opening match of the Rugby Championship against the All Blacks at Sydney in August.
"It's great to have David to inject into the game," Deans said, with lock Kane Douglas also returning from a knee injury to take over from the suspended Sitaleki Timani, while Tatafu Polota-Nau resumes at hooker.
Wales made four changes, all in the pack, to their run-on team, coach Warren Gatland notably bringing in Scott Andrews for injured tighthead prop Aaron Jarvis, while lock Ian Evans replaces Bradley Davies, who was ruled out after being felled by the now-banned Andrew Hore in Wales' 33-10 defeat by the All Blacks last weekend.
"We have always tried to be very honest in terms of our expectations," Gatland said of the disappointing autumn series, the first two games of which he missed because he was a player-scouting mission as part of his Lions remit.
"A win on Saturday would be nice, but we would still be disappointed with not winning the first two games (against Argentina and Samoa). We won't hide away from that fact.
"It has been a learning curve for players and coaches, in particular for some of the younger players.
"They've had to learn to cope with some team criticism, some personal criticism, and that is part of professional sport."
Players to watch:
For Wales: The goal-kicking of Leigh Halfpenny, along with his weaving runs from deep, the defence of midfielders Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts, as well as the tactical appreciation of flyhalf Rhys Priestland will be key to Wales. Captain Sam Warburton was dropped earlier in November, but he remains a key member of the side, especially at the breakdown.
For Australia: Top of this list is lock and captain Nathan Sharpe – playing in his last ever match of rugby, before he walks into the sunset of retirement. Berrick Barnes has been invaluable at fullback, while Kurtley Beale's attacking prowess could unlock a Wallaby backline that has not been near its best this year.
Head to head: There is few bigger showdowns that the openside battle between Sam Warburton (Wales) and David Pocock (Australia) – two masters of the tackle area and two players that know how to push the envelope. It would also be interesting to compare Rhys Priestland (Wales) with Kurtley Beale (Australia) in the tactical battle at No.10.
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 won 32-20, Cardiff (World Cup, pool match)
2007: Australia won 31-0, Brisbane
Prediction: This is one of the more unpredictable games of the November series, simply because of the erratic nature of both teams. History certainly favours Australia and they have looked a little mote settled in the last couple of weeks. However, you can never write off the Welsh. Just because we have to make the prediction, we will say Australia to win by a narrow margin – five points or less.
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (captain), 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Lou Reed, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacement: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Ryan Jones, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Scott Williams.
Australia: 15 Berrick Barnes, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 Nathan Sharpe (captain), 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Tatafu Polota Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 James Slipper, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Dave Dennis, 20 Michael Hooper, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Mike Harris, 23 Digby Ioane.
Date: Saturday, December 1
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 14.30 (14.30 GMT, 01.30, Sunday, December 2 AEDST)
Expected weather: There is a chance of rain, but with the roof set to be closed it should not be an issue. However, as we have seen, the surface cuts up badly regardless. It will be a high of 7°C and a low of 1°C
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite, Greg Garner (England)
TMO: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)
AFP & rugby365