The last international of the year sees the rejuvenated Wallabies travel to Cardiff to take on the equally resurgent Welsh team.
If the seeding for the 2015 World Cup had been this December instead of 12 months ago these sides might have avoided each other as well as England in what has become known as the ‘Group of Death’ – much to the delight and benefit of the other rugby nations. It does seem perverse that the sides ranked 3, 4 and 5 in world rugby should be bunched together in the same group for the most important competition in the rugby calendar.
I say this merely to underline that the outcome of this game provides only a psychological advantage and ‘bragging’ rights rather than any tangible benefit to the winners. That isn’t to say it’s not important and both sides will be desperate to come out on top.
Whilst Wales are trying to underline the presence of 10 or more Lions in their side, Ewen McKenzie has dismissed this as being irrelevant. I agree with him – not because the Welsh didn’t contribute massively to the Lions success (they did) but this is a totally different situation. The Lions are history (as all Lions teams are when their plane lands back home) and the Wallabies are now a very changed from the team that succumbed last July – in attitude and approach if not massively in personnel.
Saturday evening will be a tough battle where the Australian side will have to resist both the strong Welsh contingent as well as a hostile and voluble crowd.
Wales, as you would expect, are fielding their strongest available team but their centre partnership is new and will have their work cut out to resist the running lines of the Wallaby backs. But they have a huge and fierce pack with a back row that can compete with anyone. I don’t expect Michael Hooper to get the same advantage that he enjoys in most games. They also have Leigh Halfpenny – not just one of the most reliable kickers in the world game but an exciting runner with the ball too.
For Australia the pack have to get on terms in order to allow one of the best three quarter lines in world rugby to do their stuff – they will also not be depleted by the self -imposed ban that kept guys like Nick Cummins and Adam Ashley-Cooper out of the Scotland game.
More importantly they need Christian Leali’ifano to find his range this week and punish any Welsh errors in their own half.
To be perfectly honest I’m not sure who will come out on top, I favour the Wallabies – from a combination of an Australian granddaughter (and naturalised son) and an inbuilt dislike of the team from across the Severn Bridge who, incidentally, dislike us back with equal fervour.
I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the Wallabies come through but think it will be very close and likely to come down to a contest between Leigh and Christian.