Discontent does not traditionally arrive until winter, but three gut-wrenching defeats means that Wales’ autumn has been immersed in ill-feeling. If losses to Argentina and Samoa were terribly disappointing, last Saturday against New Zealand felt just as galling. So dominant were the world champions across every facet of the match that the result was as inevitable as the ban handed to cheap-shot merchant Andrew Hore on Wednesday.
Having said that, the hosts did finish with a brief flourish and a shot at some degree of redemption is at hand. Their best of enemies,Australia, now await for a sixth meeting in thirteen months – all of which have been won by the Antipodeans. Wales simply must break the Wallaby hold.
Reasons to back Wales
A glance through Warren Gatland’s ranks is heartening. Despite catastrophic injury concerns, an extremely talented 23 will arrive at the Millenium Stadium. Aaron Shingler, energetic throughout the encounter with the All Blacks after joining the fray from the bench, comes onto the blindside flank, while Gethin Jenkins gets a chance to redeem his Samoan savaging from the start. This pair of changes is extremely positive – do not expect the Welsh pack to be out-worked around the park.
There are no adjustments further back, with George North failing to recover from a hip complaint. Again, this should be a source of optimism. North has looked sluggish this month and Liam Williams was a shining success story of last weekend, his defensive daring very impressive. The long-haired Llanelli Scarlet now has another opportunity to enhance his reputation within a set of three-quarters that should finally find fluency.
The final area in which Wales can seize supremacy is a vital one. As talisman David Pocock returns to the Aussie openside for the first time since August at the expense of on-fire rookie Michael Hooper, Sam Warburton is at last re-locating a modicum of form. How Wayne Barnes referees the pivotal breakdown will go a long way towards deciding the contest as a whole and, while Pocock is an undeniable maestro on the deck, match-fitness might be lacking. With one eye on one-upmanship ahead of Lions summer, Warburton can be confident.
Reasons to back Australia
A humbling in Paris may just have been the making of Robbie Deans’ men. Since that 33-6 dismantling at the hands of Les Bleus, grinding wins over England and Italy have showcased heaps of heart. Without ever quite hitting their straps, the Wallabies are on for a hat-trick of victories to end a difficult year on a high. As Wales well know, winning is a habit that sometimes just sticks.
Instrumental in recent triumphs has been the try-scoring exploits of surfer-styled wing Nick Cummins, who comes up against Liam Williams in a battle of the barnets out wide. He of “meat pie” fame, Cummins’ all-action approach neatly epitomises true-blue Aussie attitude and Wales will have to make sure he does not link up with the exceptional distribution skills of either Kurtley Beale or Berrick Barnes.
Lastly – and I never thought I would write this – the tourist may have the edge at scrum-time. A crazy proposition two years ago, Australia have unearthed a phalanx of competent props from the carnage of front-row humiliation over the past couple of seasons. While Wales are down to the very bare bones, which happens to comprise potential debutant Samson Lee on the bench, Benn Robinson, Ben Alexander, James Slipper and Sekope Kefu have made immense progress.
Prediction: Very tough to call. Even if Wales to manage something special, it would be a matter of papering over some worrying cracks. As it happens, I don’t think they quite will anyway. Australia by 3.