Date: Saturday 6th November
Kick off: 14:30
Venue: Millennium Stadium
Australia’s re-emergence as a credible contender for next year’s World Cup, can, in certain respects, be traced back to the last time they played in Cardiff. The Wallabies were comprehensive victors last November, ruthlessly putting away a below par Welsh side. Twelve months on momentum appears to remain with Robbie Deans’ team.
Injuries have once more wreaked havoc on Warren Gatland’s plans. While the sidelining of four key individuals may expose a more general lack of strength in depth, few countries could cope with the loss of a core of players. In Ryan Jones and Jamie Roberts, Wales have lost two talismanic figures, while Lee Byrne remains the only current Welsh full back of sufficient pedigree to play test rugby. With Leigh Halpenny also on the absentee’s list, Warren Gatland has been forced into relying on utility in order to produce a XV he feels will be competitive. Irrespective of makeshift selections, Gatland will hope that Wales can pick up from where they left off during the summer after a much improved showing against the All Black in the second-test.
Defeat of the All Blacks last week in Hong Kong could not be said to be a total surprise. The Wallabies have shown signs of progress throughout their international campaign in 2010. In particular the Australian back line is now arguably the best attacking unit in international rugby. Even if doubts remain over other facets of their play, the levels of confidence and execution was ominously high in their Bledisloe Cup triumph, with Robbie Deans’ naming an unchanged team it would be hard not to see those levels rising even further.
What to expect
An open game will almost certainly favour the visitors, but Wales will look to counter this by keeping ball-in-play time to a minimum. Therefore I believe the type of game that unfolds will be dependent on Welsh kicking and set-piece accuracy.
Head to heads:
Kurtley Beale v James Hook
For opposing full backs, the contrast between the two could not be more marked. Much of Australia’s resurgence can be attributed to the counter-attacking ability of Beale, and as a consequence Wales can ill-afford to kick loosely on Saturday. Conversely Hook, as a makeshift fifteen, is likely to have his positional ability tested thoroughly by the Wallabies.
David Pocock v Sam Warbuton
In last season’s tie Wales were significantly out-muscled by Pocock at the breakdown. Much will hinge on whether Warbuton, as a more physical openside, can match his destructive counterpart.
Ones to watch:
Newly appointed captain Matthew Rees is a man for the big occasion, and Wales will be hoping his ball-carrying and set-piece play will be especially influential.
As for the Wallabies, Quade Cooper and Matt Giteau form an irresistible partnership, capable of prying open even the tightest of defences.
Weather forecast: As I write, there is still on on-going saga over whether the roof will be closed on Saturday. However the forecast is for sunny intervals and occasional showers with a light wind, so the elements may not play too much of a role in proceedings.
Prediction: Wales have all too often neglected to learn the lessons of past Autumn series, failing to produce consistently strong performances against Tri-Nations opposition. Warren Gatland’s men will have to hit the ground running, as they did last season against the All Blacks, to have any chance of being competitive. The Wallabies have a new-found steel under Robbie Deans’ and I expect them to be ruthless enough to come out on top, albeit not by such a heavy margin as last season.
Australia by 10.
By Paul French (@paulfrugby)