Five talking points ahead of Saturday’s autumn international between Wales and Australia at the Principality Stadium…
Can Wales make it 14th time lucky?
This year marks the 10th anniversary since Warren Gatland began his reign as Wales head coach – and 2008 was also the last time Wales beat Australia.
That 21-18 success in Cardiff, underpinned by tries from Shane Williams and Lee Byrne, has been followed by 13 successive defeats – eight home losses, plus one each in London, Auckland, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.
Six of the reversals were by five points or less, and it has been a case of prolonged pain for Wales against the Wallabies, with Saturday’s encounter providing another opportunity to end that sequence.
Battle of the breakdown key to victory hopes
The breakdown area is always a critical aspect of any Test match, whether in terms of teams’ attacking intent or slowing up possession when on a defensive back foot, and this weekend will be no exception.
On paper, Wales have their work cut out with Australia fielding two world-class openside flankers – Michael Hooper and David Pocock – in their back-row, but the hosts have a master openside of their own in Justin Tipuric.
Wales cannot afford for Hooper and Pocock to dominate or it could be a long day at the office.
Wales’ kicking game must be on the money
Australia possess some of world rugby’s most dangerous broken-field runners in players like Israel Folau, Kurtley Beale and Dane Haylett-Petty – a trio with an ability to shred any defence. Wales, therefore, need pinpoint accuracy in terms of their tactical kicking.
Gareth Anscombe, who has been retained in the No 10 shirt ahead of Dan Biggar, and his half-back partner Gareth Davies will lead the way in terms of needing to keep their team in the right areas, while also minimising Australia’s considerable counter-attacking threat.
World Cup dress rehearsal
After Saturday, the next time Wales play Australia will see stakes infinitely higher, as they face a 2019 World Cup pool clash in Japan.
While a lot of water will flow under the bridge between now and then, there is no doubt a marker can be put down this weekend.
A Wales victory would not only end their losing run against Australia, but also potentially sow a seed of doubt in Wallabies ranks prior to a pivotal encounter in terms of both countries’ World Cup ambitions next September.
Summer tourists have chance to shine
Wales’ summer tour this year – when they beat South Africa in Washington DC and then toppled Argentina twice in South America – might have slipped under the radar for many, but it showcased a healthy degree of exciting young talent.
Wing Josh Adams, lock Adam Beard, prop Dillon Lewis and flanker Ellis Jenkins were among those who starred on that trip, and they are all involved against Australia on Saturday. They are a glowing example of Wales’ expanding strength in depth.
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Gareth Davies; 1 Nicky Smith, 2 Ken Owens, 3 Tomas Francis, 4 Adam Beard, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 7 Justin Tipuric, 8 Ross Moriarty.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Liam Williams.
Australia: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Sefa Naivalu, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 1 Scott Sio, 2 Tolu Latu, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 4 Izack Rodda, 5 Adam Coleman, 6 Jack Dempsey, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 8 David Pocock.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Sekope Kepu, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Ned Hanigan, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Matt To’omua, 23 Jack Maddocks.