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Australia v Wales, Rugby World Cup, October 21
A matter of pride
ESPNscrum Staff
October 19, 2011
Wales skipper Sam Warburton sends Vincent Clerc sprawling, Wales v France, Rugby World Cup semi-final, Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand, October 15, 2011
Wales will be without captain Sam Warburton after he was banned for his tip tackle on Vincent Clerc © Getty Images
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And so to the dreaded third-place play-off, the one game in sport that no side ever wants to find themselves in. The desolation one feels after a semi-final defeat is difficult enough to cope with without then having to feign interest in a fixture of little significance and of even less interest to the general public.

The noises coming out of the Australian and Welsh camp ahead of Friday's clash in Auckland have all been very positive. The Wallabies claim that they are keen to finish their campaign on a high and give their supporters something to cheer about after Sunday's demoralising defeat by bitter rivals New Zealand. Wales, meanwhile, are talking excitedly about equalling their best-ever finish at a World Cup, which, coincidentally was achieved with a victory over the Wallabies the last time teh tournament was staged in New Zealand, in 1987.

However, they are fooling nobody. Both sides would rather be on their way home at this stage to seek the warm, consoling embrace of their loved ones.

Certainly, the last thing that they Wallabies need is another game. Their campaign has been blighted by injury and head coach Robbie Deans wasted little time in confirming that he will make wholesale changes to the side which started against the All Blacks. His first-teamers have already suffered enough, both physically and mentally.

Wales might be slightly more up for the game on account of their perceived unfair treatment at the hands of referee Alain Rolland in last weekend's agonising defeat by France. Warren Gatland's troops could well be determined to win this one for their skipper, Sam Warburton, who was shown a straight red card just 18 minutes into their loss to Les Bleus for a tip tackle on Vincent Clerc.

However, the Welsh, just like the Wallabies, know full well that clinching third place will do little to ease pain of their semi-final heartbreak. Only time will help in that regard.

Australia - Player to Watch: While some of his team-mates have failed to live up to their star rating, David Pocock has been sensational since returning from an early injury in the tournament. The flanker ended the Springboks' hopes and then fought a lone battle against the All Blacks back-row in the semi-final - still managing to steal a number of turnovers. With Sam Warburton suspended Pocock could well rule the breakdown.

Australia - Team News: Nathan Sharpe will make his 100th appearance for the Wallabies after being recalled to the starting line-up. He replaces the injured Dan Vickerman. James Slipper, Tatafau Polota-Nau and Salesi Ma'afu form an all new front row in place of Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore and Ben Alexander. Ben McCalmanand Scott Higginbotham come into the back-row ahead of Radike Samo and Rocky Elsom. Kurtley Beale returns at fullback with Adam Ashley-Cooper moving into the midfield in place of Anthony Faingaa and Berrick Barnes replaces Pat McCabe at inside centre.

Wales - Player to Watch: While Wales' World Cup campaign has been largely fuelled by a fearless band of youngsters, veteran Shane Williams has more than kept pace with his team-mates. Friday's match could be the final time he dons the red of Wales and Welsh fans will be desperate to see a final fling of magic from the wizardry winger.

Wales - Team News: In Sam Warburton's absence, Gethin Jenkins takes the captain's armband while Ryan Jones packs down in the back-row at No.8 with Toby Faletau shifting over to openside flanker. Paul James takes over at tight-head prop from Adam Jones, who was forced off with a calf injury last weekend, while Bradley Davies has been preferred to Alun-Wyn Jones in the second-row. The promotion of James and Ryan Jones to the starting line-up creates room on the bench for Ryan Bevington and Adam Powell

Key Battle: Wales scrum-half Mike Phillips has hit top form as the tournament has progressed, epitomised by terrific individual tries against Ireland and France in the quarter and semi finals. While he's had the privilege of playing behind a Welsh pack posed, Will Genia has battled away behind a retreating Wallabies eight. However, if Phillips and the Welsh back-row fail to close down the Wallabies scrum-half, Genia is more than capable of deciding the game in Australia's favour.

Stats: Australia's Adam Ashley-Cooper has scored five tries to his name, meaning he needs just one more to draw level with the tournament's top try-scorers, Vincent Clerc and Chris Ashton

Trivia: Wales are the only side other than New Zealand to have scored more than 200 points in the tournament, with Warren Gatland's men having scored 210 going into their final game

Quote Unquote:

"I think it's a good thing that we're playing so soon because you can sit and dwell on these things now. But the fact that in four days' time we get the chance to pull on the jersey and finish this tournament off on a positive note is the thing that's going to drive us."
- Wallabies skipper James Horwill does his best to talk up the third-place play-off clash

"Obviously, I am very disappointed. But all my attention and focus now goes towards the players playing on Friday and supporting them the best I can."
- Wales captain Sam Warburton gets behind his team-mates after being hit with a three-week ban

Prediction: It's pretty difficult to call. It really come down to who wants it more and perhaps the Welsh will be that bit more motivated. Consequently, we're expecting history to repeat itself and Wales to pip the Wallabies to third place just as they did 24 years ago.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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