Key Clash Preview: Australia v Wales – 3rd Test
Date: 23rd June 2012
Kickoff: 06:00 (BST)
Referee: Craig Joubert
Venue: Sydney Football Stadium, Sydney
Utterly dominant in Melbourne with 64% possession and 66% territory, it still took the Wallabies the latest of penalty kicks from substitute Mike Harris to win the 2nd Test and with it the series. To come out on top so comprehensively in those areas yet only sneak by is actually a great concern, highlighting Australia’s inability to unlock the Welsh defence barring a brilliant dummy from Berrick Barnes which led to Rob Horne’s try.
The return of Kurtley Beale to 15 with Adam Ashley-Cooper moved to the wing should reassert that cutting edge, but opting for five forwards on the bench shows how the Wallabies feel Wales will take the game up front to them once more. A series win is already wrapped up, but a whitewash is by no means certain.
Heartbreak for Wales in Melbourne, but in a sense they were the masters of their own downfall. Ahead by one point with the clock ticking, they kicked away possession and from the subsequent lineout Australia set up the maul that resulted in the winning penalty. In fact kicking was a bête noire for Wales all afternoon, Rhys Priestland seemingly desperate to keep the ball as far from his hands as possible. If Wales had chased as effectively as they did during the 1st half, it might have been a different story.
Sift past the kicking hue however and a lot of what Wales produced was pleasing. Ashley Beck performed well on debut, Ryan Jones looks back to his best and the work of Bradley Davies and George North deserved more. But the throwing from Matthew Rees was so poor as were the performances of Mike Phillips and Priestland that Wales have not done themselves justice in Australia. Saturday is a chance to scrape back some credibility.
What to Expect:
The Welsh lineout has to work better than last weekend. Take away that clean ball of the top that frees up Cuthbert/North/Davies on first phase ball and your options disappear. This will therefore hopefully improve, along with the accuracy of the Welsh gameplan and the performances of key figures such as Sam Warburton, Phillips, Priestland and Gethin Jenkins.
As for the Wallabies, they will have to be more clinical and perhaps more patient in attack, although the pace of the game should be quicker given it is being played in the afternoon rather than at night. Their scrum has coped surprisingly well against the Welsh but they have been often thwarted at the breakdown, leaving Scott Higginbotham and David Pocock largely uneffective.
Head to Head: Sitaleki Timani & Bradley Davies
Timani had a rough ride in the Test against Scotland in Newcastle, not so much a baptism of fire but more a flash flood that left him struggling against the grunt of Richie Gray. Two bench spots over the last few weeks have seen him given limited action but now the hugely physical Waratah has a chance to impress. His performance will undoubtedly be measured against Bradley Davies, who has worked hard to make amends since his suspension during the Six Nations. A stand out performer in the first two Tests, he has been a real plus for Rob Howley’s side.
Ones to Watch: Kurtley Beale & Adam Jones
Charged with assault but free to play, Beale has had a rough few months with injury and a poor season with the Rebels, but returns to the Green & Gold of Australia in his favoured position of full back with a license to thrill. A remarkably gifted footballer, a good performance will distract from his off-field troubles whilst a poor one will bring the Wallaby media crashing down on himself and Robbie Deans.
Meanwhile with the Lions tour creeping into mind, Adam Jones has not controlled the scrum as expected and is beginning to come under pressure from Dan Cole, Ewen Murray and Mike Ross – all outstanding tighthead props who have improved over the last season. A vintage Jones performance is always a pleasure to witness and Wales need him at that level in Sydney.
The catastrophic conclusion to the Melbourne Test will have been dismissed on the surface but left a psychological scar on Wales. They perhaps will never get as big a chance as last weekend again, a tragic twist to the story of Welsh woe in Australia. Better control, clarity and execution could lead to a win. But the Wallabies have the advantage. Australia by 6
by Ben Coles