Date: 16th June 2012
Referee: Chris Pollock
Venue: Etihad Stadium, Melbourne
That was more like it. The troubles of Scotland were long forgotten by Australia last weekend in Brisbane, coming out in the 1st half with a point to prove to their critics and racing away into a lead that Wales nearly destroyed, but not quite. Whereas against Scotland their attack had lacked direction, here the Wallabies were deadly assertive. They were aware of Wales preference to keep bodies at the breakdown to a minimum, so persistently drove up the centre of the rucks, a plan that led to the first try.
They were sharper and more intelligent, no better example coming than Will Genia’s try when he raced between two front row forwards and beat the last man. In fact, Genia & Berrick Barnes steered the ship admirably. Their tactical kicking was spot on and much improved from Scotland, with Pat McCabe giving them the rudder they needed in midfield. With an unchanged side for the 2nd Test, the Wallabies will be confident.
A turgid, stodgy first half performance from Wales came as a surprise given their form in the Six Nations. They dropped off tackles, spilled passes and looked incredibly lethargic, epitomised by Sam Warburton’s lacklustre performance around the park. But, the more the game went on Wales improved, admirably clawing back a 20-6 deficit to 20-19 before McCabe slipped through.
Having reshuffled slightly this week due to injury, the team actually has a more pleasing feel about it. Ryan Jones form has been rewarded with a start at 8, the leadership of Alun Wyn Jones was sorely missed last weekend as was that of Matthew Rees, whilst Ashley Beck impressed in his first cap and now starts at inside centre. Wales know they will have to commit more in the forwards but the pressure is heavily on Rhys Priestland’s shoulders to orchestrate well after a dismal 1st Test.
What to Expect:
The Wallabies power plays up the middle seemed to catch Wales off their guard, so expect far more astute defending around the ruck from the men in red. Australia’s kicking game last week was excellent and Barnes will have taken confidence from his performance after a horrendous season in Super Rugby. As for Will Genia, Wales must keep with discipline and not be drawn to his lateral runs when he hunts for gaps. It requires great obedience to not run out and hammer him given his size, but do so and they will be left wide open.
As for Wales, greater control in the set-piece has to happen this week. Their front row are undoubtedly better scrummagers, yet they failed to get on top of the Wallabies last weekend and present Leigh Halfpenny with enough decent kicking opportunities. Beck’s inclusion will hopefully free up the midfield, but there is a lot of pressure on Priestland. He can expect the axe if he fails once more.
Head to Head: Nathan Sharpe & Alun Wyn Jones
Having announced this week that he might be reconsidering retirement, Sharpe will be looking to prove that he’s still got it against Wales this weekend. A classy operator in the lineout and around the park, Sharpe’s combination with Stephen Moore is the heartbeat of the Wallaby lineout. Lock is an area where the Wallabies are currently short of talent apart from the young Rob Simmons, so he needs to continue his good form. Alun Wyn was away last week on marital duties, but returns with Wales in sore need of his grunt in the scrum and work around the paddock.
Ones to Watch: Rob Horne & Ashley Beck
Putting in a solid performance last weekend alongside Pat McCabe, Horne’s return to Test rugby was an enjoyable one but you sense there is a lot more to come from the young Waratah. If given space he can produce wonderful gliding runs through the heart of defences – he just needs to be a touch more involved. Ashley Beck on the other hand has enjoyed a fantastic season with the Ospreys in the RaboDirect Pro12 and had a good debut last weekend coming off the bench.
Tricky. Wales will be fuming after letting a great chance slip in Brisbane, whilst the Wallabies have now been together for longer and will be confident after last weekend’s success. It’s all about the start, but home advantage suggests another Wallaby victory. After all, Wales haven’t won in Australia since 1969. Australia by 6
by Ben Coles