Wales v Australia
Wallabies poised to bounce Dragons again
Sam Bruce
November 7, 2014
George North has been in fine form for Northampton Saints © Getty Images
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Team News

  • Wales: George North starts at outside centre, with Jonathan Davies and Scott Williams both absent due to injuries, partnering Jamie Roberts in a powerhouse pairing. The Scarlets' Liam Williams will wear the No.11 shirt, while Rhys Webb has edged Mike Phillips at the base of the scrum. Up-front, Bath prop Paul James starts ahead of Gethin Jenkins, Jake Ball partners Alun-Wyn Jones in the second-row, and Dan Lydiate features at blindside flanker.
  • Australia: Sean McMahon will make his Test debut, replacing injured Scott Fardy in the No.6 jumper. The Rebels flanker is one of two changes in the back-row, alongside Ben McCalman, who replaces the injured Scott Higginbotham, as Michael Cheika otherwise maintains the starting side that lost to New Zealand by one point at Suncorp Stadium. Cheika meanwhile named an extended bench including hooker James Hanson, props Ben Alexander and Tetera Faulkner, locks James Horwill and Will Skelton, back-rower Matt Hodgson, scrum-half Will Genia, fly-half Quade Cooper, and winger Rob Horne. One player will be omitted from the bench in the lead-up to game day.

The training run is over; the Michael Cheika Wallabies era officially starts on Saturday, when Australia face Wales at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

The horror show that had been the Wallabies throughout October was momentarily forgotten at Twickenham last weekend when Cheika began his tenure with a typically free-flowing encounter against the Barbarians, culminating in a 40-36 win over the invitational side. It was just enough to satisfy Cheika, but he knows the challenge that awaits in Cardiff will require a significant step-up in intensity.

One thing in which the new Wallabies boss can take confidence is Australia's complete dominance of Wales in recent years. Cheika has contributed exactly nothing in a nine-match winning run against the Welsh that dates back to 2008, but the confidence his players will take from that record can't be measured.

Can the Welsh finally register a win over the Wallabies? It would certainly be timely with the sides to meet in the final match of Pool A at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. They've called Pool A the "group of death", and this match might well prove a bereavement prelude.

Australia's Tevita Kuridrani runs with the ball, Australia v France, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, June 7, 2014
Tevita Kuridrani challenges the line constantly © Getty Images
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In form

Has there been a more damaging ball-runner of late than Tevita Kuridrani? Overlooked by former coach Ewen McKenzie for the Wallabies' opening Rugby Championship encounters, the Brumbies centre reasserted himself in the No.13 jersey with standout displays against South Africa and Argentina. He was again at the forefront last weekend against the Barbarians, brushing off three defenders in a wonderful solo five-pointer from beyond halfway.

Kuridrani's match-up with George North, who moves from the wing to centre for just the second time at Test level, should be spectacular with the Northampton man in superb recent form of his own for the Saints. The British & Irish Lions star created plenty of problems for the Wallabies last year, and he looks primed for another excellent showing after scoring a lazy four five-pointers in the European Rugby Champions Cup clash with Ospreys a fortnight ago. North's combination with Jamie Roberts in midfield is sure to have Wallabies defensive coach Nathan Grey hard at work.

Wallabies fans remember George Smith from when he "backpacked" round Australia with the Lions © Getty Images
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Out of form

It seems a little harsh to pinpoint Saia Fainga'a as a weak link when he's well down the list of hookers in Australian rugby. But the horrendous run of injury at No.2 has forced Australia's hand, and thus Fainga'a keeps adding to a career that has already notched 32 Test caps. Fainga's work rate remains solid but his execution continues to concern and often leads to penalties. The hooker was also easily stripped of the ball in the lead-up to the Barbarians' second try, scored by Francis Saili.

If you think we're being a little tough on Fainga'a, criticism of Leigh Halfpenny isn't likely to be well-received; but such has been the fullback's run of late that it's at least a little justified. Halfpenny's switch to French giants Toulon has been turbulent, with enigmatic owner Mourad Boudjellal at one point even threatening to tear up the Welshman's contract as he battled a shoulder injury. Halfpenny finally made in onto the paddock on October 12, but, after a layoff that stretches back to the Six Nations, he is still warming to the task.

Joe Tomane scored the decisive try in Cardiff 12 months ago © Getty Images
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Key battle

Wales will again feel they can find some dominance at scrum time, while Sam Warburton's return to the Test arena could not be more timely with the relentless Michael Hooper ready for another breakdown scrap. The Wallabies burned the Welsh out wide in Cardiff last year, the hosts unable to cope with the width of Quade Cooper's passing in what was his 50th Test. The Queenslander is on the bench this time around, but Cheika's desire for an expansive game means little changes for the Wallabies; North will need to be on his game defensively in the difficult 13 channel.

Stats

  • The Wallabies have won nine straight, and 12 of the last 13 against Wales..
  • Wales have lost 24 of 25 Tests against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa under Warren Gatland. The hosts have it all to do.

Odds

Australia are favourites to win the match priced at 1.75 while Wales are at 2.4.

Verdict

This appears to be Wales' best chance for a win over the Wallabies for some time, after all the turmoil in the Australian ranks of late. But Michael Cheika is one shrewd operator and he's bound to have already made an impression on the Wallabies' non-Waratahs. Australia by five.

Australia were overjoyed to escape with their ninth consecutive victory over Wales © Getty Images
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