Date: 21st October 2011
Time: 08:30 BST (20:30 NZST)
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Referee: Wayne Barnes (ENG)
After last week’s agony, Wales have the opportunity to bounce back and end what has overall been a successful World Cup campaign, on a high. The very nature of that defeat to France makes it vitally important that they go and do themselves fully justice. Having perhaps been something of an inconvenience in past World Cup’s, the third-placed play-off has developed into a meaningful contest. This team owe it to themselves to finish with at least a bronze medal, as opposed to returning empty handed. Also any chance to take the scalp of one of the Tri-Nations teams should be relished. This is reflected in Warren Gatland opting to name the strongest Welsh team he can, and resist the chance to give fringe members of the squad a run out.
Other than a somewhat controversial quarter-final defeat of South Africa, it has in the main been a disappointing World Cup for the Wallabies. For all the pre-tournament hype, Robbie Deans’ side have largely flattered to deceive. Had they lived up to expectation and not slipped up to Ireland, they would have faced Wales in the quarters instead of the bronze medal match. With Robbie Deans’ coaching tenure under threat, defeat at Eden Park could potentially see him being shown the door. The New Zealander has made a number of changes from the side that lost out to the All Blacks, some forced through injury, and others to mix things up.
What To Expect:
The question is which of these two teams wants it’s the most. Losing at the semi-final stage of a tournament has the potential to bring with it a hangover, of the non-alcoholic variety. Australia’s back line are still the most exciting in the tournament, but Wales have demonstrated their ability to play some expansive all round rugby. On paper both sides are fairly well matched.
All Eyes On:
Although he is now likely to bring the curtain down on his career against the same opposition in December, this is the last notable game for Shane Williams in a Wales shirt. 56 tries in 85 tests, speak volumes for a player who will undoubtedly go down as one of the all time Welsh rugby greats.
Having missed out through injury against the All Blacks, Kurtley Beale has a point to prove for the Wallabies. Fortunately Beale is only 22 and will hopefully have a lot more World Cups to demonstrate the prodigious talent that he possesses. As Wales found out in the autumn last year, they can ill-afford to give the Australian full back much space.
Head to Head: Toby Faletau v David Pocock
A relative rookie in test rugby playing out of position, playing against one of the best players in world rugby. It hardly seems fair, but that is the massive task facing Faletau. The young back-rower has at least had some regional experience for the Newport Gwent Dragons’ but nothing will prepare him for having to fill the breach left by Sam Warburton. The breakdown has been massive in this World Cup, so Faletau will once again have to surpass expectations.
David Pocock didn’t have things his own way against New Zealand and Richie McCaw last weekend so he will have a point to prove to himself and the fans against Wales. His work at the breakdown is generally superb and if he can get the upper hand against the inexperienced Faletau then he will be able to provide decent and quick ball for his backs to utilise.
Last fixture: Wales 16-25 Australia, Millennium Stadium, 5th November 2010.
Weather Forecast: Fine, with light winds.
Prediction: Third place play offs or ‘Bronze medal matches’ at Rugby World Cups have traditionally followed little logic (see Argentina thumping France last year). As for Friday it would be foolish not to back Wales to win a narrow, but entertaining game. Wales by three points.
by Paul French