By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor
IT WILL be Tri-Nations champions versus Six Nations champions when Australia and Wales kick off their three-Test series in Brisbane on Saturday – and it should be an enthralling encounter.
The likes of Jamie Roberts and Quade Cooper may be missing from the line-ups, but there are still plenty of world-class players on display. The Wallabies came out on top against Wales at the World Cup and in last year’s December Test in Cardiff, but Scotland proved on Tuesday that they are beatable and Sam Warburton’s side will be keen to notch a first Wales win over the Wallabies on Australian soil since 1969. Here are some key areas…
The battle between captains David Pocock and Sam Warburton – two of the best opensides in world rugby – is sure to be ferocious. They are both master jacklers and will be pouncing on the ball at the breakdown faster than a fat kid on cake (to use the words of 50 Cent!).
Warburton has said that Pocock is the toughest opponent he’s played against, that he has to watch the Wallaby like a hawk, but Warburton is sure to keep Pocock occupied too and both flankers will be looking to win turnover ball for their team. Whoever comes out on top in that area is likely to lead their team to victory – turnover ball is the most dangerous with which to attack.
Much has been made of Australia’s advancements up front in recent years, but they struggled at scrum time against the Scots on Tuesday and Wales could cause them similar problems. Adam Jones is probably the best tighthead in the world and he will be piling the pressure on Benn Robinson while Gethin Jenkins will want to get stuck in to his opposite number, Sekope Kepu, too.
Ken Owens, rewarded for his strong form in the Six Nations with a starting berth at hooker, completes Wales’ front row and they certainly seem to have the edge over their Wallaby counterparts. If they get decent ball at the set-piece, Rhys Priestland is sure to get the backs firing.
Wheels and steel
The speed on display in both back-lines is impressive, but the power adds another dimension. Jonathan Davies and Scott Williams will have to be at their defensive best to stop Rob Horne and Pat McCabe – both strong runners – while Wales’ giant wings, George North and Alex Cuthbert, are sure to spell danger for the Wallabies too.
Then you have high-ball experts Adam Ashley-Cooper and Leigh Halfpenny, neither of whom will shy away from launching counter-attacks, and two fly-halves in Priestland and Berrick Barnes who can mix up play with a varied kicking game.
The Wallabies will be desperate to get back to winning ways after that defeat by Scotland, but I’m plumping for Wales to inflict more pain by winning in Brisbane. The winning margin? It’ll be close, so four points.
Australia v Wales, Saturday 9 June, 11am BST, Brisbane, Live on Sky Sports 2
AUSTRALIA: Adam Ashley-Cooper; Cooper Vuna, Rob Horne, Pat McCabe, Digby Ioane; Berrick Barnes, Will Genia; Benn Robinson, Tatafu Polota Nau, Sekope Kepu, Rob Simmons, Nathan Sharpe, Scott Higginbotham, David Pocock (captain), Wycliff Palu.
Replacements: Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander, Dave Dennis, Michael Hooper, Nic White, Anthony Fainga’a, Mike Harris.
WALES: Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Scott Williams, George North; Rhys Priestland, Mike Phillips; Gethin Jenkins, Ken Owens, Adam Jones, Bradley Davies, Luke Charteris, Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton (captain), Toby Faletau.
Replacements: Matthew Rees, Paul James, Alun Wyn Jones, Ryan Jones, Lloyd Williams, James Hook, Ashley Beck.