Wales v Australia
Wales entertain Wallabies in final Test
November 28, 2008
Australia fly-half Matt Giteau will be looking for another influential performance at the Millennium Stadium © Getty Images
Wales and Australia go head-to-head for the James Bevan Trophy on Saturday with plenty at stake for both sides.
Following defeats at the hands of South Africa and the All Blacks, Warren Gatland's Six Nations champions have one final throw of the dice at the Millennium Stadium if they are to finally put down a marker against the best of the southern hemsiphere. After securing the Grand Slam in 2005, Wales snatched a 24-22 win over a below-par Wallabies side thanks to a moment of brilliance from recently-crowned IRB World Player of the Year Shane Williams, but this Australia side is a far different proposition.
In recent weeks Robbie Deans' men have done enough to impress and confound fans and critics alike. First up was a come-from-behind victory over Italy but they found their form the following weekend with a dominant, Al Baxter-powered victory over England at Twickenham. This was followed by a stuttering win in Paris last weekend where they benefited from some wayward kicking from David Skrela. Despite some question marks they remain on course and will want to head home with an unbeaten tour under their belts.
Wales come into the game after a frustrating few weeks, with a 20-15 loss to South Africa and last weekend's 29-9 defeat to the All Blacks not telling the whole story of a battling autumn campaign. Currently all Wales have to show for their efforts is a sloppy win over Canada two weeks ago, a fact that they will be desperate to change on Saturday. On paper this game looks the most evenly matched of the autumn, especially given the Wallabies choice to rest certain key personnel, including talismanic open-side George Smith in one of five changes.
Deans has maintained that his team selection does not mean that the Wallabies are taking Wales lightly, "Wales have shown throughout the course of this year that they are a world class side," he said. "This will be our toughest game. First of all they picked up the Six Nations and even in their recent performances they will be frustrated, probably from a results perspective, but they have shown in each game that they are world class. And what makes them really dangerous this week is that they are very hungry to show that.
"They know they are getting close (to beating one of the southern hemisphere teams). As a result, they'll be looking to bring forward the confidence they have gained out of those previous performances, and will see us as an opportunity to complete the package." Wales have made two changes from the side that lost to the All Blacks, with Mark Jones replacing teenage wing Leigh Halfpenny, given a break after a hugely encouraging autumn, and Ian Gough slotting into the second-row in place of the injured Ian Evans.
While unlikely, there is also a chance for Wales to move up the IRB world rankings ahead of Monday's 2011 Rugby World Cup pool draw should they post a 15-point win and England lose to the All Blacks.
"We want to play the best teams regularly in order to improve ourselves and raise our own standards," said Wales boss Gatland. "We want to achieve consistency, and any rise up the world rankings would certainly be a reflection that we may be going in the right direction.
"But the most important thing for everyone is to get a result if we can. That is an incredibly tough prospect, but on the other side of the coin there is no doubting that we have an opportunity here against the Wallabies.
"The statistics say they are a better team than us and they will rightly carry the favourites' tag, but we have the opportunity on Saturday to achieve something special out of this autumn campaign. It is a chance we do not want to miss."
Gatland's men will not be short of home support, many of whom would have been present for Wales' demoralising loss to the Wallabies in last year's World Cup. Captain Ryan Jones is quick to dismiss the importance of past results however, "It is going to be another tough day at the office. It will be 22 guys going out there with the last throw of the dice for the autumn. We expect everyone to front-up, like they have done.
"We are certainly progressing and developing. If we can marry our first half against the All Blacks with our second half against South Africa, we will be right up there. That's the aim now, isn't it? We performed admirably for 40 minutes against New Zealand, but we need to start really squeezing these teams for 80 minutes." If Wales are to succeed at the Millennium Stadium they will have to neutralise the influence of Australia fly-half Matt Giteau, who was so impressive against England at Twickenham two weeks ago.
"He is deceptively strong in the tackle area, he runs nice lines and he knows when to take a gap," said Gatland. "For me, those two (fly-half) positions the last couple of weeks have been pretty critical. We did a lot of work last week (on Carter), and it will be the same sort of approach this week in terms of trying to shut down Matt's game."
With two sides going all out to end their campaigns on a high, there should be plenty of fireworks on display at the Millennium Stadium, with a capacity crowd hoping to roar Wales across the whitewash to a famous victory. If they can win the battle on the floor and limit the influence of Matt Giteau then they are in with a shout.
Wales: L Byrne (Ospreys); M Jones (Scarlets), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), G Cooper (Gloucester); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Ospreys), A-W Jones (Ospreys), R Jones (Ospreys, capt), M Williams (Cardiff Blues), A Powell (Cardiff Blues)
Replacements: R Hibbard (Ospreys), J Yapp (Cardiff Blues), L Charteris (Newport Gwent Dragons), D Jones (Scarlets), M Roberts (Scarlets), J Hook (Ospreys), A Bishop (Ospreys)
Australia: Drew Mitchell; Peter Hynes, Ryan Cross, Stirling Mortlock (capt), Digby Ioane; Matt Giteau, Luke Burgess; Benn Robinson, Stephen Moore, Al Baxter, Mark Chisholm, Nathan Sharpe, Hugh McMeniman, Phil Waugh, Richard Brown.
Replacements: Adam Freier, Matt Dunning, Dean Mumm, George Smith, Sam Cordingley, Quade Cooper, Lote Tuqiri/Adam Ashley-Cooper.
Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Dave Pearson (England), Romain Poite (France)