By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor
CLOSE BUT no cigar is a phrase that can too often be associated with Welsh rugby. Yet again last weekend they were within minutes of a historic victory in Australia only to give away a last-minute penalty and condemn themselves to a series defeat. There is only pride to play for now, so with the pressure off can Wales finally get that elusive win?
Think Clearly Under Pressure
T-CUP was the motto of Clive Woodward’s 2003 World Cup-winning side and is a mantra Wales would do well to follow. A little more composure last week in Melbourne and they would have had a memorable win. Instead, some questionable decision-making and two avoidable penalties resulted in another defeat.
This Wales squad did show composure during their Grand Slam campaign, managing to close out games, but they still seem to have something of a mental block against the southern hemisphere big three. They have been in good positions in both their Tests on this tour but haven’t won either game; they need to maximise their strengths and play smart in this final match if they are to leave Australia with a win over the Wallabies.
Australia had the lion’s share of possession last weekend but were outscored two tries to one and came within a minute of defeat. They need to prevent Wales from having the same impact at the breakdown so they can speed up their ball and make the most of their possession – without quick ball they will not be able to release their dangerous back three. With Kurtley Beale back at full-back Wales will be on red alert whenever he gets the ball.
Wales, for their part, will be looking to slow the Wallabies’ ball down again but also to improve their own possession statistics. A few poor lineouts cost them quality ball in good territorial positions in Melbourne, so they need to be more accurate in this area and provide their powerful back-line with front-foot ball.
As well as the addition of Beale to their back-line, the Wallabies have bolstered their engine room by selecting Sitaleki Timani alongside Nathan Sharpe. Not only will he be expected to add more weight at scrum time but he will want to make his presence felt in the loose, in attack and defence. Back-rowers Scott Higginbotham and Wycliff Palu will be looking to do the same too.
Wales’ forwards need to step up their ball-carrying game too. If Ryan Jones and Bradley Davies can get their team across the advantage line with some of their trademark charges, it will put pressure on the Wallabies’ defence and could create space for the likes of George North and Leigh Halfpenny to wreak havoc.
I’ve backed Wales for the last two weeks and been wrong, but I’m sticking with them so hopefully it’ll be third time lucky! The pressure is off but this is a determined bunch who won’t want to be beaten again so I’ll say they’ll win by five.
AUSTRALIA v WALES, SATURDAY 23 JUNE, 6am (BST), SYDNEY, Live on Sky Sports 1
AUSTRALIA: Kurtley Beale; Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne, Pat McCabe, Digby Ioane; Berrick Barnes, Will Genia; Benn Robinson, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Sekope Kepu, Sitaleki Timani, Nathan Sharpe, Scott Higginbotham, David Pocock (captain), Wycliff Palu.
Replacements: Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander, Rob Simmons, Dave Dennis, Michael Hooper, Nic White, Anthony Fainga’a.
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: Ken Owens, Paul James, Luke Charteris, Justin Tipuric, Rhys Webb, James Hook, Scott Williams.