November 2018 Test Matches
Wales vs Australia
Saturday, November 10
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 17:20 GMT; 19:20 SA Time
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
Television match official: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Wales have not beaten Australia in a rugby Test in a very long time. In fact, they have lost their last 13 Tests against the Wallabies. Since 2012 the Aussies have put 198 points past Wales while conceding 143. The most recent Tests saw Australia win 29-21 in 2017, and 32-8 in 2016.
Based simply on their past record against the Welshmen, the Wallabies should be looking forward to this game with some degree of confidence.
The problem is a serious lack of form and focus, in 2018 the Wallabies have only won three of their ten Tests. They were whitewashed in the Bledisloe Cup Tests by the All Blacks — two of which were part of a humiliating Rugby Championship campaign. They were beaten 2-1 in the mid-year series against Ireland. Their few successes in 2018 included a 19-8 tour opener against world No.2 team Ireland on the 9th June; a very scrappy, and lucky, 23-18 last minute win over an out-of-sorts South Africa on the 8th September; and a strange 45-34 win over Argentina’ after a first half of terrible rugby and a second half of the best rugby produced by a Wallaby side in the last decade.
That second half gave Wallaby fans something to cheer and talk about. Much talk was about finally having “turned the corner” and “found their mojo” – which talk was quickly dispelled at the Nissan Stadium in Yokohama when the All Blacks won the third of the Bledisloe Tests as they put five tries past the Wallabies, who answered with two of their own. The final score of 37-20 did not quite reflect the overall All Black dominance.
As these two teams square up on Saturday, the Welshmen will be thinking that their chance has arrived to turn the tables on their bogey team. These Wallabies look ripe for the plucking!
Wales come into this game on the back of a warm-up against Scotland last weekend, a Test they won comfortably by 21-10. They have managed to get over the unexpected retirement of their former captain, Sam Warburton, without too much drama, and are looking like a team that wants to play Rugby. They have had the chance to shake off some ring rust and prepare for the visitors from Down Under. Adding to their confidence will be the fact that Wales are unbeaten in their last six matches.
In the Wallaby camp, Michael Cheika will be desperate for a win, just over half a year before the start of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. He has been under the closest of media scrutiny throughout 2018 with repeated calls for his axing as head coach, despite the looming RWC. His bulldog approach to any criticism has not helped, as he has refused the offer of help from Rugby Australia, and he needs a win in this game simply to lift some of the pressure on his shoulders and on his team.
A team on the rise against a team struggling with a serious slump…… It could be interesting!
Wales have made three changes to their starting XV for Saturday’s clash with the Wallabies, with Josh Adams, Adam Beard and Tomas Francis coming in.
Adams, the only new name in the backline, starts on the left wing, taking over the number 11 jersey from Luke Morgan.
Beard comes in at lock, where he will partner skipper Alun Wyn Jones, with Cory Hill dropping to the bench.
Despite Dillon Lewis’ strong performance against Scotland, he too is amongst the subs. He has been replaced by Francis in the absence of Samson Lee, who is out with a hamstring injury.
Having missed last weekend’s game, Dan Biggar comes onto the bench, where he is accompanied by another star name in Liam Williams. In total, the Welsh bench boasts 185 caps.
Australia have been boosted by the return of centre Samu Kerevi.
Kerevi will start at 13, shifting Israel Folau back to the wing after his outside centre stint against New Zealand in Japan.
Marika Koroibete has been dropped from the 23 altogether with the backline reshuffle, left out of the 23 for the first time since his debut against the Pumas in Canberra last year.
Up front, Wallabies hooker Tolu Latu has earned just his second career Test start this weekend.
Latu has had just one other Test start, against France on the 2016 Spring Tour, but Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has backed in the Waratahs hooker to lead the way in Cardiff.
The 25-year-old has had game-changing impacts in his recent Test inclusions but has also been left after some ill-discipline, something that will be put to the Test again this weekend.
Tatafu Polota-Nau will come off the bench in his first Test since Australia’s loss to Argentina in September, one of three changes to the Wallabies 23.
Elsewhere, Jack Dempsey’s return pushes Ned Hanigan back to the bench, along with lock Rob Simmons.
Adam Coleman has slotted straight back into the starting team, recovered from a groin injury that forced him out of the third Bledisloe, teaming up with Izack Rodda for the clash.
England-based back Matt To’omua comes onto the bench with Jack Maddocks the final change on the bench, replacing Tom Banks.
Adam Ashley-Cooper has missed out on a Test return after re-joining the squad for the first time since 2016.
The Wales brains trust will have taken note of a couple of Wallaby strengths and weaknesses. They will have noted that the Wallaby pack has been somewhat better than usual in the scrums, but that their lineout has been a lottery all year. They will have taken note of David Pocock’s prowess at the breakdowns, but also that he is often man-alone as the rest of the Wallaby loose trio has favoured playing off the ball rather than to the ball.
And it seems that Wales have prepared for the Wallaby strengths and weaknesses.
The loose trio of Justin Tipuric and Dan Lydiate on the flanks and the bruising Ross Moriarty at No.8 provide for some serious competition over the loose ball. Pocock will need the support of the returning Jack Dempsey if the Wallabies are to contain the Welsh threat at the breakdowns.
The selection of Adam Beard alongside Alun Wyn Jones at lock suggests that they will be focussing on putting pressure on the Wallaby lineouts, especially as the Aussies have a somewhat short tail, with none of Pocock, Hooper or Dempsey being towering giants. Dempsey is the tallest of the 3, at just 1,91m, with Pocock measuring 1,84m in his socks, and Hooper the shortest at 1,82m. In contrast the Welsh loosies are all taller than their Wallaby counterparts, with Tipuric at 1,88m, Dan Lydiate at 1,93m, and Ross Moriarty at 1,88m.
With Tomas Francis pack downing alongside Nicky Smith and Ken Owens after replacing Dillon Lewis in the front row, Wales look solid, if not spectacular in the scrums too.
The Wallaby tight five feature the usual suspects, with Adam Coleman back from a groin injury alongside Izack Rodda in the second row, and Allan Alaalatoa, Tolu Latu in his second start, and Scott Sio fronting the scrum.
At the back Wales have the in-form and try-scoring George North facing Sefa Naivalu, who is a good finisher, but has a question mark hanging over his defence. On the other side of the field Josh Adams is tasked with shutting down the considerable talents of Israel Folau.
Hadleigh Parkes and Jonathan Davies face the returning Samu Kerevi and Kurtley Beale, where much will depend on how quickly Kerevi can shake off the rust after a long time out with injury. Kurtley Beale has been strangely out of form in 2018, although being selected out of position at flyhalf must have had some impact.
Fullback Dane Haylett-Petty has been one of the few Wallabies that has produced consistent form in 2018 and he brings some class to the game, facing his opposite Leigh Halfpenny, who is of a similar class.
I do believe that this game will revolve around the form of the two half-back pairings, Gareth Davies and Gareth Anscombe looked fresh and good for Wales a week ago, while Bernard Foley is more of a journeyman 10, while Will Genia, for all his class, has looked increasingly fatigued and unfit as the year has ticked on.
Will the Wallabies shake off the fatigue and their woeful results in 2018 and produce something akin to that 40-minute spell against Argentina in the final Test of the 2018 Rugby Championships, or will they revert to the haphazard and unfocussed approach of earlier in the year? Will Wales use last week’s win over Scotland as a stepping stone, and go up another gear as they look to end their losing streak against the Aussies?
Time will tell.
Key areas in this Test will be the breakdowns, the lineouts, and the functioning of the half-back pairings. In each of these crucial areas, I feel that Wales just seem to have the edge.
On the evidence of last week’s game against Scotland, Wales appear to have the firepower that can sink the Wallaby ship.
Wales, by around 10 points.
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Nicky Smith
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, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Scott Sio
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