The ‘Dove Men Challenge’ this Saturday sees Wales come up against their most recent conquerers Australia, a whole 43 days after their last encounter in the 3rd place playoff at the Rugby World Cup.
Weather: Cloud and showers, 11 degrees, strong easterly wind.
Without their English and French based stars, Wales are not as weakened as you might expect. This is partly due to the excellent form of their provincial sides so far in the Heineken Cup and RaboDirect Pro12. Without first-choice second row pairing Luke Charteris and Alun-Wyn Jones due to injury, Wales have Bradley Davies and Ian Evans filling in. Lloyd Williams starts at scrum-half with namesake Scott at outside centre. Sam Warburton returns to lead the side for the first time since that tackle against France in the World Cup semi-final.
Fresh from an easy win over the Barbarians last weekend, Australia remain relatively unchanged, apart from bringing back their captain James Horwill into the second row. Most attention will be on James O’Connor at fly-half, in what will be his first real challenge at this level in his new position. He will have Berrick Barnes outside him to offer support, and a set of devastating runners in Digby Ioane, Rob Horne and Adam Ashley-Cooper to cause damage. The main concern will be the scrum, where the young outfit of James Slipper, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Salesi Ma’afu are not yet top scrummagers at this level.
What to Expect:
Wales to try and dominate the scrum and get as many penalties as possible from it. The breakdown will simply be a jousting match between Warburton and David Pocock, whilst the Wallabies arguably have the edge in the lineout with Rob Simmons and James Horwill. Out wide, Jamie Roberts will no doubt target the 10/12 channel in between O’Connor and Barnes, where the latter from the Waratahs is the weaker defensively. With some space, Ioane, Shane Williams, George North and Lachie Turner can all score tries at will.
Head-to-Head: Sam Warburton v David Pocock
Hard to look past these two. Both captains of their countries at remarkably young ages, Pocock has arguably the bigger physical presence but Warburton’s skill leaves them nearly even. The way these two give opposing teams nightmares, it will be interesting to see how they cope with a capable poacher playing them at their own game.
One to Watch: Shane Williams & Rob Horne
The great man’s 87th and final match for Wales is without doubt the main attraction at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday. He stands on 57 tries so far, and it would only be fitting for Williams to bow out with another score to his name in the red jersey. At the other end of the international scale, Horne had a breakthrough season for the Waratahs in this year’s Super Rugby tournament, and has carried his good form through into the Green & Gold of Australia.
There were only three points between them in the 3rd place playoff, and it should turn out as close as that again. Pressure on O’Connor and Priestland to kick the points when they’re on offer. Home advantage could swing it towards Wales, but Australia are in great form. The Wallabies by 4.
by Ben Coles