Wales look to save face against Wallabies
November 29, 2012
Sam Warburton tries to break through against New Zealand last weekend © Getty Images
Head to Head
Wales will hope to end their awful autumn Test campaign on a winning note when they host Australia at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
The hosts have slumped to three straight defeats this month and a host of injuries have only added to their pain. They began their autumn campaign with a loss to Argentina and followed this up with a morale-sapping defeat to Samoa. And then they faced the All Blacks - a team who look set to end 2012 unbeaten. They fell 33-10 to the Kiwis but received praise for a gutsy fightback that saw them at least draw the second half.
Wales have Warren Gatland at the helm for Saturday's match - he sat out the first two games of the series to focus on British & Irish Lions duties ahead of next summer's tour, with interim coach Rob Howley taking the reins. And he will go into the clash with the Wallabies in the knowledge that if Wales lose, they will drop out of the top eight of the IRB Rankings. That would mean they would go into Monday's pool draw for the 2015 World Cup as third-tier seeds and face being grouped with two of the world's best sides.
It is a grim reality for Wales but if they beat or draw with the Wallabies then they will remain in that preferable top-eight berth. But it will not be an easy game against Australia. While the Wallabies fell in their first match of the autumn Tests to France, they bounced back against England and also added Italy's scalp to their collection last weekend.
Wales - Player to Watch: Leigh Halfpenny is one of Wales' most consistent performers and while they have at times been woeful in the autumn Tests, he is someone who has done his Lions claims no harm with some solid matches at fullback for the side.
Wales - Team News: Wales have changed four in the pack for Saturday's match with props Gethin Jenkins and Scott Andrews, lock Lou Reed and flanker Aaron Shingler all starting. Second row Ian Evans was set to start before failing a late fitness Test prompting Reed's promotion from training squad to starting berth. Jenkins comes into the team for Bath prop Paul James while Andrews replaces Aaron Jarvis, who is out for the rest of the season. Evans takes his place in the team at the expense of Bradley Davies who is still suffering with concussion after being struck by Andrew Hore in last weekend's match. The only form change is in the back-row, where Shingler takes over from former Wales captain Ryan Jones, who is on the bench. Liam Williams keeps his place on the wing with George North still struggling with a hip injury while the bench includes uncapped Scarlets prop Samson Lee, who celebrates his 20th birthday on Friday.
Australia - Player to Watch: David Pocock is back in the green and gold of Australia for the first time since August. He was unlucky to miss out on a spot in the IRB Player of the Year nominations and will look to put a frustrating couple of months behind him with an impressive showing on Saturday.
Australia - Team News: Pocock's inclusion at openside is one of three alterations to the side that edged out Italy last weekend. The others see lock Kane Douglas return from a knee injury to take over from the suspended Sitaleki Timani, while Tatafu Polota-Nau reclaims his place at hooker. The bench includes the tour's newest arrival, Waratahs scrum-half Brendan McKibbin, who jetted in from Sydney this week and will make his Wallabies debut if called into action. Michael Hooper and hooker Stephen Moore have dropped onto the bench from last week's run on side.
Key Battle: Doubts concerning Rhys Priestland's form continue to dominate questions levelled at Gatland but he has backed the Scarlets half-back to put in a solid showing. He will come up against Wallaby Kurtley Beale who has moved into the fly-half role seamlessly after his jaunts at fullback.
Trivia: Nathan Sharpe skippers the side in what is likely to be his final Test match for the Wallabies. He has threatened to retire before but Saturday's match is apparently going to be his definitive final match in the green and gold of Australia. It has been an incredible career for Sharpe which has seen him collect 115 caps following his Test debut back in 2002.
Stats: Such has been the level of player turnover in Australian ranks since last year's season-ending victory over Wales at Cardiff, the starting line-up announced features just three players: fullback Berrick Barnes, centre Adam Ashley-Cooper and blindside flanker Scott Higginbotham, who started in last year's corresponding match.
"We have played them regularly over the last couple of years and have come close to winning on a number of occasions, but have not quite been able to get ourselves over the chalk of the finish line. Both sides have had injuries to cope with, but there is every reason for optimism." - Wales boss Warren Gatland on Saturday's Test
"Cornered beasts are always the most dangerous; they have nowhere else to go but straight ahead!" - Australia coach Robbie Deans on the threat of Wales
Prediction: Wales will finish the autumn series without a win to their name with David Pocock's return proving instrumental in Australia's victory.
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