Wales v Australia: Four talking points ahead of Millennium Stadium Test
Wales v Australia: Jack McCluskey takes a look at four talking points ahead of the Millennium Stadium clash
Three key battles
Saturday’s game will pit two of the best full-backs in the world against each other as Leigh Halfpenny and Israel Folau come face-to-face – again. Halfpenny is currently the best Welsh player during their golden age and will be key for his team not only in open play but also with his boot. The Cardiff Blues man kept his side in the game against South Africa this autumn, scoring all their 15 points when they could not break through the Springbok defence. However, Folau will win most if not all of his high balls and constantly drives the ball to put the Wallabies on the front foot and Cuthbert believes that if they stop him they stop Australia. When one player is 6ft 3ins and 16st+ and the other is 5ft 8in and 13st, it should seem obvious who will win the tussle on a rain-soaked pitch. However, if you are technically as good as Will Genia, even one of the world’s standout scrum-halves in Mike Phillips is going to have a tough 80 minutes. Genia has been a bit low on confidence lately but is slowly playing his way back to what many believe he should be, the best player in the world. Phillips will have to rough up the Aussie scrum-half and stop him playing the way he wants. Phillips may not be the most technically gifted scrum-half in the world but he has self belief and is certainly one of the most competitive No9s you will see. Australia’s strengths lie in their creative players. Folau, Genia and Quade Cooper are all talents that you would want to have in any team and Australia have all three of them in one back line. Cooper is technically as good as Genia and will constantly gives the Red Dragons problems, if both of them are playing at the top of their game it will be too hard to stop them. Cooper brings the ball to the line and attracts defenders time after time and someone will need to get on him early. Man for man though the job will personally fall to Dan Biggar to cope with Cooper after he got the nod over Rhys Preistland. The Ospreys’ man has only 19 caps for Wales but Warren Gatland believes he is the in form 10 and deserves the chance to take the vital role.
Running from the Lions
The Welsh squad for Saturday has 11 players that were involved in the Lions’ tour against the Wallabies in the summer. One of the defining images of that tour was when George North picked up Folau carried him on his shoulder and drove him backwards. Luckily for Gatland, North was this week given permission from his club side Northampton to play in the match despite the game falling outside of the international window. The Lions won that tour 2-1 and the Welsh players were the stars of the show, notably North and Halfpenny. In the last Test, the Wallabies were totally overrun and the match ended 41-16. North and Roberts both scored tries and Halfpenny scored 21 points to bring his total in the series to 114 points. Wales captain Sam Warburton missed that deciding test with a shoulder injury and he believes that the series win is irrelevant for Wales. “The Lions has no bearing on the match on Saturday,” said Warburton. “It is for Wales, and the Welsh fans will want to see it as well as the players”. Warburton will be obviously playing down the importance of that Lions win but it will give the Welsh players the belief and it will always be in the back of the minds of the Australian team.
Wales to win?
Wales are looking to end an eight-match losing run against the Wallabies when they face off this Saturday. The last time they recorded a win against Australia was in 2008 – and in the last three meetings they have lost by two points or fewer. Concentration will be key for the home side after they were on the wrong end of last-minute defeats in two of the last three games against the Aussies. The success of these autumn internationals, for Wales, will be judged on this game, a nine-point defeat by South Africa was followed by two conventional victories over Argentina and Tonga. Ewan McKenzie’s Australia have had a similar record this autumn, winning three of their four Tests but they lost to England, the hardest team they faced. It will be a key game for The Red Dragons as it is their last before the Six Nations which start in February, where they will look to defend their crown. Wales will always find it hard against this talented Wallabies side but they have what it takes to take the game to the Aussies and get the result that they probably deserved in previous years.