Wales look to kick-start tour on right note
May 1, 2012
It will be a tale of the two Williams come Saturday © Getty Images
Wales take on the Barbarians in the Millennium Stadium on Saturday as Rob Howley's men prepare for their three-Test tour of Australia.
While the focus is on the June Test line-up, come Saturday, all eyes will be on two Welsh legends. Martyn Williams is in line for his 100th cap for Wales after being named on the bench - in what is controversially a recognised capped match - while Shane Williams will be lining up for the Barbarians looking to leave his mark on the Millennium Stadium turf for one last time.
Sentiment aside, the game will give Howley a valuable opportunity to see exactly where his charges stand ahead of the trip Down Under. By the time Wales kick-off their match with the Baa-Baas, Shaun Edwards and 16 of Wales' first-choice players will already be stationed in their Australia base with a further 18 joining them after Saturday's match.
For the Barbarians, the match ends their three-game tour which has included a heavy defeat to England and a narrow last-gasp win over Ireland on Tuesday.
Wales - Player to Watch: Dan Biggar's last-minute conversion won the RaboDirect PRO12 title for the Ospreys on Sunday. He will hope to continue in a similar vein and keep the pressure on first choice fly-half Rhys Priestland ahead of their tour to Australia.
Wales - Team News: Wales have three uncapped players in the XV with Liam Williams at fullback, Harry Robinson on the wing and Rhodri Jones in the front-row. Andrew Bishop, James Hook, Aled Brew, Biggar and Lloyd Williams keep Williams and Robinson company in the backs. Rhys Gill and Matthew Rees get the nod in the front-row alongside Jones with Alun Wyn Jones and Ian Evans in the second-row. Josh Turnbull, Justin Tipuric and Ryan Jones start in the back-row.
Barbarians - Player to Watch: It simply has to be Shane Williams. In what looks set to be his last competitive match - but then again you never know with Shane - he will be going all out to sign off with a try against his beloved Wales.
Barbarians - Team News: Mils Muliaina gets the nod at fullback with Isa Nacewa and Shane Williams on the wing. Mike Tindall and Casey Laulala get the nod in the centres with Stephen Donald and Richie Rees at half-back. Duncan Jones, Benoit August and skipper John Smit form the front-row with Mick O'Driscoll and Mark Chisholm providing the grunt in the engine room. Francois Louw, Mamuka Gorgodze and Johnnie Beattie form a formidable back-row.
Key Battle: The uncapped Liam Williams takes on the All Blacks centurion Mils Muliaina - it is the classic master versus apprentice match up. If Williams gets stage fright on in one of rugby's biggest and best stadiums, then expect Muliaina to ruthlessly exploit his weaknesses.
Trivia: If Martyn Williams comes off the bench against the Baa-Baas, he will be just the third player to reach 100 caps for Wales following in the footsteps of Gareth Thomas (100) and Stephen Jones (104).
Stats: Wales have played the Barbarians on eight occasions - with Wales winning two games and the Baa-Baas taking the other six clashes.
" Sometimes, the way he conveys himself - and the way he is portrayed by others - doesn't do him any favours. But he is a kid who means well and he's a huge competitor. I still think, for such a young kid, people forget that he's got a wealth of experience." - Ryan Jones on Dan Biggar
" Mike has been fantastic. He has great rugby nous, is a fantastic competitor and I'd be signing him up as he's great at going forward and if you look after yourself, you can play until you are 35 or 36 " - Baa-Baas coach John Kirwan on Mike Tindall
Prediction: The Barbarians will edge the match at the Millennium Stadium with Shane Williams playing an integral role in their win.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
John Taylor argues the world's best XVs players must be given a chance to play in the Olympics to increase the appeal of the game
The All Blacks' form is not a peaking issue, but Hansen must threaten to wield his axe, to demand improvement, Craig Dowd writes
"It has been the World Cup that smashed down the gender barriers of the sport." Tom Hamilton looks back at a remarkable tournament
A selection of the best pictures from England's historic World Cup triumph in Paris as they beat Canada 21-9