Autumn Internationals Preview: Wales v Australia

Millennium StadiumDate: 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)

7 thoughts on “Autumn Internationals Preview: Wales v Australia

  1. It be fair to Wales it is not just the injuries to the 4 but the injuries and unavailability below that.

    Lydiate makes it back to replace Ryan jones, which is good news as we all thought he wasn’t available – he has real talent and will become a top 6 (not quite physical enough yet imo, but very dynamic). Originally below Ryan we had Lydiate and McCusker injured – not forgetting Andy Powell being unavailable for this game as it is outside the IRB window. All this made replacing Ryan difficult.

    Below Byrne we have no one – and Gats has been stupid in moving Hook there imo. Why find out our best 13, 2nd best 12 and 3rd best 10 is also our 2nd best 15? Though suggestions from those who know things are that he feels hook’s future is at 15

    No Roberts is a blow, doubled by Hook moving to 15. The likely player to take over, Jon Davies, is also injured, so we go into the game missing our 1st and 3rd choice inside centre, and our 2nd playing fullback. Shanks is a legend and will no doubt remind Gats why he should not be discarded, but Bishop is, imo, no more than a game trier.

    Below Halfpenny is interesting. Mark Jones has retired, but Tom James is available and experienced, and very talented – but has fallen out of favour with the management after one outburst too many. Prydie has had the shirt for the last 4 tests iirc – but he has as many Ospreys starts (4) as he does Welsh ones so isn’t getting the top level exposure. George North is being touted as the next big thing (literally) but picked up an injury a few weeks back and needs a game with the region (has only played about half a dozen matches anyway) before coming back in. Which leaves Will Harries – who looked good in a cameo for Wales in the summer. Not sure if he is up to it but he is certainly a dangerous attacker with something of that ‘sparkle’ to him that Wales need – as the midfield is looking extremely 2 dimension

  2. Decimated is the word, but actually it’s still not the worst side on paper…

    I agree that Hook should still be in the centres, but he’ll still be a quality player at 15; I don’t know an awful lot about Harries, but he’s the sort of player that could sparkle, and we know how good Shane can be; Shanks and Bishop are pretty solid in midfield; Phillips and Jones are potentially world class half-backs; Lydiate, Warburton and Thomas has a dynamic feel to it, (Ryan Jones and especially Andy Powell are slightly overrated in my view); and then your front 5 is top class.

    It might be closer than you think?

  3. It certainly could be worse. Hook at 15 has given them the game imo – we needed him in midfield to break down the Aussies. But Shanks and Bishop is a very strong partnership defensively, and we know that SJ and Phillips will tackle anything in sight.

    The tight 5 is the best we have – and I reckon could be pushing for one of the best around in the next year. I am excited by the dynamic backrow, though I m not fan of JT at 8, has been muscled off the ball too much recently, would prefer Ryan but agree about Powell being over rated.

    IF we can use our pack to get proper front foot ball, if shanks can run over Cooper and Bishop can actually pass (something he is not known for) we have a chance. The main issue is all our sparkle is in the back 3, and we have a centre in Bishop who is almost Noonesque in his ability to take contact when he should be using an exciting back 3.

    Oz by 10 in the original prediction is a fair one. This close to the game I find it hard to call (heart starts over ruling head). But betting wise I would put it in the 8 – 13 point Oz win bracket.

  4. “The main issue is all our sparkle is in the back 3, and we have a centre in Bishop who is almost Noonesque in his ability to take contact when he should be using an exciting back 3.”

    Welcome to my world! I think the problem that both Wales and England face is that Australia and New Zealand can conjure a score so quickly, whilst the home sides will be a much more laboured and pre-meditated, hoping to contain the threats and then maybe pinch a win at the end.

    Pretty excited now though, despite the relatively slim chances!

  5. Thanks for the response guys.

    In an ideal world Hook would start at outside-half in my opinion, but I don’t believe that Gatland thinks the depth is there to be blooded without Wales being exposed. Hence why he tends to mould his selections around a core of individuals, as opposed to selecting positionaly and in terms of combinations.

    Its an interesting point about the Bishop / Shanklin combination being more about putting up a brickwall. Questions over Hook’s ability as a defensive centre is questionable, while Wales may lack the sparkle you mention Nick, I think Wales can ill-afford to be blown away by what as I mention is probably the best attacking backline in test rugby. Maybe Hook may have a run out at centre against the Boks or All Blacks, to give Czekaj some experience at full back.

  6. Personally think playing Hook at 15 is a big mistake, and Wales will simply have a long afternoon defending with hardly any attcking chances being presented as a result. Aus are starting to look like a very good team, though they’re still a little inconsistent. Depending on which Aus team comes out, I think Wales could be looking at a very long 80mins!!!

  7. The roof is staying open. If the weather is anything like it was today in Cardiff then tomorrow is certainly going to be one for rugby purists.

    I understand the skepticism about Hook, but I’m more worried about our set-piece and errors.

    Lets hope the Wallabies, like you said Tommy, live up to that inconsistent tag and return to earth with a bump, after last week’s win over the All Blacks.

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