By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor
MELBOURNE COULD feel a little like home for Wales when they take on the Wallabies in the second Test. The Etihad Stadium’s closed roof is sure to remind them of their own Millennium cauldron in Cardiff – but they will need everyone’s body clocks to be on Australian time this weekend.
Last Saturday in Brisbane, Sam Warburton & Co were caught cold in the first half-hour and looked somewhat off the pace. While they brought the score back to 20-19 midway through the second half they couldn’t push on and the Aussies won 27-19.
Wales, still looking for their first win over the Wallabies on Australian soil in 43 years, are desperate to build on their Six Nations Grand Slam and prove themselves in the southern hemisphere. They will be better for Saturday’s runout after a few weeks without a game, but can they see off the men in gold in Melbourne?
Breakdown in communication
Wales were unhappy at Craig Joubert’s interpretation at the contact area last week but they must take responsibility for failing to adapt to the referee. Players might not agree with his decisions but they must make sure they realise quickly which way he is going to rule on certain issues.
New Zealander Chris Pollock takes charge in Melbourne and Wales believe he will be firmer on the tackler rolling away at the breakdown, so Australia might not get the same speed of ball they enjoyed in Brisbane, where David Pocock turned in a masterful display. If Wales can slow Australian ball they will starve the Wallabies at source – but, just as importantly, they need to ensure they get quick ball themselves.
The nines of fire
Will Genia produced a performance of pure class in the first Test, feasting on the aforementioned quick ball and dictating play. He’s an incredible player and much of the Wallabies’ game is likely to revolve around their No 9 once more – and if he is allowed to dominate for the second time in seven days Wales could be in trouble.
One of those who will be aiming to stop him is Mike Phillips. Wales’ scrum-half is sure to have been smarting all week from his opposite number’s assertive display and will want to up his own level of performance this weekend. Phillips is definitely a big-game player and can make his physical advantage tell against this Wallabies team; Wales need him to fire.
Australia coach Robbie Deans pointed out this week that Wales profited when putting boot to ball at Suncorp Stadium and expects them to do more of the same at the Etihad. He’s called on his own players to improve their accuracy under the high ball, but with the stadium’s floodlights giving off quite a glare both sides might find it tricky when the garryowens come raining down – and a drop here or there could give away the crucial score.
I still feel Wales have the talent to win at least one Test in this series while Australia have often found it difficult to back up big wins. So I’m going to say Wales win by two and the series is all square heading to Sydney.
Australia v Wales, Saturday 16 June, 11am BST, Etihad Stadium, Melbourne, Live on Sky Sports 2
AUSTRALIA: Adam Ashley-Cooper; Cooper Vuna, Rob Horne, Pat McCabe, Digby Ioane; Berrick Barnes, Will Genia; Benn Robinson, Tatafu Polata 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, Ashley Beck, George North; Rhys Priestland, Mike Phillips; Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees, Adam Jones, Bradley Davies, Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton (captain), Ryan Jones.
Replacements: Richard Hibbard, Paul James, Luke Charteris, Justin Tipuric, Rhys Webb, James Hook, Scott Williams.