Wales out to heap woe on Australia
November 27, 2009
Will Wales' Shane Williams add to his impressive try tally against the Wallabies this weekend? © Getty Images
It's a game that has produced plenty of thrills in recent seasons, from Digby Ioane's rasping last-gasp try last season to Shane Williams raising the roof with a length-of-the-field effort in 2005. This weekend, though, a win will be all that counts for both Wales and Australia at the Millennium Stadium.
The home side has been building slowly during their November series, beginning with a damp squib against the All Blacks and circumventing a fired up Samoa before last weekend's victory over Argentina finally showed glimpses of their attacking armoury. Shane Williams took his Test try tally to 50 with two scores and will be in confident mood following a mixed season labouring against the tide of kicking.
The Wallabies' tour is in tatters. They will not want to be reminded that they had intended to be arriving in Cardiff looking to set the seal on a Grand Slam tour, their first since 1984 and the vintage side of Ella and Campese. Last weekend's loss to Scotland has been chalked up far and wide to the heroic defence of the home side at Murrayfield but the simple fact remains that it was the tourists' lack of accuracy that handed a famous win to Andy Robinson's men.
Matt Giteau's missed conversion hogged the limelight but nailed-on tries to Stephen Moore, Rocky Elsom and Drew Mitchell were butchered by a combination of misplaced ambition, Quade Cooper's needless miss-pass to Mitchell, and muddled thinking.
Their attitude will have to be spot on this weekend and their application better as Wales showed flashes of their best against the Pumas. They are still a long way from the side that won a Grand Slam in 2008 and a decent way short of the one that turned over the Wallabies at this stage last season but they have been steadily improving week on week.
There was a mixed bag against the Pumas. In the loose the back-row of Andy Powell, Martyn Williams and Ryan Jones provided plenty of grunt and go forward, with the subtleties of Williams' link play opening up the South Americans' stubborn defence on several occasions. In a blow, Jones has been ruled out with a back injury after originally being named at No.8, with Powell switching to the base of the scrum and Dragons youngster Dan Lydiate called in to make his first Test start at blindside. The captaincy goes to loose-head Gethin Jenkins.
Wales' management of the breakdown against Australia was less than precise, which will be a worry this time around. David Pocock returns to the Australian back-row alongside skipper Rocky Elsom and No.8 Wycliff Palu following a dynamic display against Ireland and his battle with Williams will be an exciting subplot.
At halfback the home fans will be hoping to see the sparky interplay between Dwayne Peel and Stephen Jones that came to characterise their 2005 Grand Slam. The former Scarlets team-mates have not started a Test together since the 2008 Six Nations but have shown strong form in recent weeks. Jones was superb throughout against the Pumas while Peel upped the tempo drastically after replacing a leaden Gareth Cooper.
Peel will go up against a player who espouses the values that he brought to his game at the same age in Will Genia. The snappy Reds scrum-half has been a rare bright spot for the Wallabies in recent weeks and will again look to get the backs moving off quick ball. Giteau's class will shine through following his horror-show at Murrayfield and the duo will need to be carefully marshalled by a Wales defence that has conceded only one try this autumn that wasn't an interception.
The Welsh centre combination of Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts remains in place despite the return to fitness of Tom Shanklin and they will go up against an equally green combination in Quade Cooper and Digby Ioane, who have one defensive howler to their name this tour with Brian O'Driscoll ghosting between them to secure Ireland's 20-20 draw at Croke Park.
The Wallabies have shown admirable strength in the tight and their scrum was dominant at Murrayfield. Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees and Paul James will have to get parity against the underrated Wallabies front-row of Benn Robinson, Moore and Ben Alexander and had a good hit-out against a strong Pumas trio.
At the lineout the two sides have struggled in recent seasons but Wales will have the edge heading in to the game after a metronomic display at the set-piece against the Pumas. Alun-Wyn Jones and Luke Charteris are not the brawniest of second-rows but their technical gifts have aided the Welsh lineout while James Horwill and Mark Chisholm have had a largely anonymous tour thus far but will be keen to show their worth in their final Test of the season.
The Wallabies' place at No.3 in the IRB world rankings is in serious jeopardy, with France and Ireland poised to leapfrog them should they slip up.
Wales: James Hook; Leigh Halfpenny, Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies, Shane Williams; Stephen Jones, Dwayne Peel; Gethin Jenkins (capt), Matthew Rees, Paul James, Alun-Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris, Dan Lydiate, Martyn Williams, Andy Powell
Replacements: Huw Bennett, Duncan Jones, Jonathan Thomas, Sam Warburton, Martin Roberts, Andrew Bishop, Tom James
Australia: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Peter Hynes, Digby Ioane, Quade Cooper, Drew Mitchell; Matt Giteau, Will Genia; Benn Robinson, Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander, James Horwill, Dean Mumm, Rocky Elsom (capt), David Pocock, Wycliff Palu
Replacements: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Matt Dunning, Mark Chisholm, George Smith, Luke Burgess, James O'Connor, Kurtley Beale
Referee: Wayne Barnes (Eng)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (Fra), David Changleng (Sco)
It's time for those running Welsh rugby to stop trying to prevent its players heading to France and to start planning a future without them, writes Martin Williamson
Paul Eddison explains how the French sold English clubs down the river and why their domestic game will go from strength to strength
'Nothing can prepare you for the noise of the Millennium Stadium though, you just can't hear anything." Tom Hamilton talks to Cory Allen
Following a weekend where Wales suffered more heartbreak against Australia and the Aviva Premiership showed its class, the Monday Maul looks back at some of the key talking points