Key Clash Preview: Australia v Wales
Date: 9th June 2012
Referee: Craig Joubert
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Oh dear. Torrential conditions are often a great leveller in modern rugby and Australia were left in a humiliated state of hypothermia wondering what went wrong against Scotland. Their major period of dominance in the second half went unconverted and they paid the price at the scrum as predicted come the final whistle. Overall, their pack lacked the necessary bite to handle Scotland’s physicality around the ruck and they failed to unlock what was an outstanding Scottish defence.
Changes have been made – 8 of them to be exact – with greater experience evident through Wycliff Palu, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Pat McCabe, whilst the pack will be stronger with the Waratahs front row of Robinson, Polota-Nau and Kepu. What it will come down to is how Australia defend – Wales are infinitely stronger in attack than their Celtic brothers and will not let a chance slip.
There is a sense of revenge about Wales trip to Australia this summer – not just for losing the third place playoff at the Rugby World Cup but also for the defeat back in Cardiff last December. Arguably there is no better time to face the Wallabies given their poor domestic form and their confidence sapping defeat to Scotland earlier in the week, meaning that even if Wales only win one test against Australia this summer, it has to be in Brisbane.
Even with four of the side unavailable that defeated France to win the Grand Slam, the Welsh side seemingly picks itself. The strength in depth Wales possess in certain areas such as the second row and in the midfield is the envy of other nations and rightly so. Scott Williams in particular will look to impress in the absence of Jamie Roberts.
What to Expect:
Wales to focus on the set-piece and really turn the screw. Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones are undoubtedly superior than their opposition so Wales must take advantage here along with placing pressure on Polota-Nau at the lineout. With Pocock and Warburton both sides possess outstanding ball players at the breakdown who will make turnovers happen, of that there is no doubt. The key will be how guys such as Nathan Sharpe, Scott Higginbotham, Bradley Davies and Dan Lydiate operate at rucks in terms of generating quick possession and thwarting the opposition.
As for the backs, Australia missed Pat McCabe’s power runs through the 12 channel whilst Rob Horne has been out of form but looks to glide through. The pressure will be on Scott Williams to contain McCabe and force Berrick Barnes to kick away possession to the very exciting Welsh back three.
Head to Head: David Pocock & Sam Warburton
Two young leaders whose performances bely their age. Pocock will have had his work cut out this week to lift his side after the loss against Scotland but the way he can control the game at the breakdown has the ability to inspire. Warburton in that regard is incredibly similar with the influence he has on big matches. The furore over his fitness in the build up this tour sums up his importance to this Welsh side.
Ones to Watch: Cooper Vuna & Rhys Priestland
A late addition to the squad following the withdrawal of Joe Tomane, Vuna is an NRL convert who is based with the Melbourne Rebels. Undoubtedly talented going forward, his defence is questionable and given the size differential between himself and Alex Cuthbert on Saturday will be significant, here is an area for Wales to target.
Priestland on the other hand will be instructed to guide the Welsh ship once more. The memory of his poor performance against England at Twickenham has lingered but then again he was so outstanding during his last stint in the Southern Hemisphere that there is no doubting his talent.
Perhaps not since England in 2003 have a Northern Hemisphere side been such overwhelming favourites to travel to the South and win. Saturday will be a coming of age moment for the Welsh – win and they will cement their status as a growing force, but lose and the knives will be out over whether they are good enough to become world beaters. Australia are in a mire; Wales must act. Wales by 6
by Ben Coles