This is it. The big one. The game upon which the success of this autumn series depends – Wales versus Australia. Our final game of 2013 is of course against none other than our current nemeses, the Wallabies, and it promises to be a humdinger of a fixture.
As a preview to Saturday’s showdown I thought we’d consider what went well against Tonga, who should play against Australia and whether we have any chance of winning.
What do we learn from Tonga?
In short, here are some observations I have from the dreadfully boring game against Tonga:
– Despite his try, Ashley Beck is not good enough to play for Wales. I mean this with the greatest respect. It might be that Beck becomes proficient, but currently I’d have kittens with him at centre against a side of any calibre. Here’s hoping Scott Williams makes it.
– Owen Williams is good enough to play for Wales. Like his Cardiff Blues teammate Cory Allen, Williams looks like he can really cope at international level, and I’m excited about seeing him develop. It’s also nice to see that we have a few options in the centre once more.
– James Hook is still a quality player, but he also still lacks the ability to run a game. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who felt that Wales should have kept the ball with the forwards far more than we did; and I can’t help but feel that Hooky is responsible for this. A flyhalf should only get the ball in his hands when he wants it, and too often Hook received the ball and flung it wide when we hadn’t yet earned the right.
– The new scrum laws are a mess, and we saw how frustrating and ineffective they can be once again on Friday.
– Whether it was the fault of Lloyd Williams or the fault of his forward pack who failed to protect him; Wales struggled to generate quick ball all night. This would be altogether less concerning if it wasn’t a very strong forward pack that took to the field against Tonga; but it was, with Rhodri Jones the only forward to have played less than ten times for Wales.
– Hallam Amos showed glimpses of quality, but ultimately this was too soon for Dragons youngster.
– Ian Evans is currently Wales’ best lock and deserved a Lions test start.
Who should play against Australia?
This is the team I would select to face Australia on Saturday:
- Gethin Jenkins
- Richard Hibbard
- Rhodri Jones
- Ian Evans
- Alun-Wyn Jones
- Sam Warburton
- Justin Tipuric
- Toby Faletau
- Mike Phillips
- Dan Biggar
- George North
- Scott Williams
- Owen Williams
- Alex Cuthbert (if fit)
- Leigh Halfpenny
In the absence of Adam Jones and with Paul James returning to Bath, the front row rather picks itself, with Gethin and Hibs both putting in phenomenal performances so far this series. As far as I’m aware, Scott Andrews is still not available, and therefore tighthead duties fall once more to Rhodri Jones. As I stated earlier, I am not a fan of the new scrum laws, and I have real concerns about the impact they have on the game. Let’s hope that a more established loosehead and hooker can give Wales the advantage at scrumtime.
Our injury crisis has now extended from the centre to the second row, and we only have two out-and-out locks available for this game. Gatland has called up Ospreys lock James King to provide cover, but it’s likely King will be beaten to the bench spot by Ryan Jones or Andrew Coombs.
The back row is a slightly contentious area, but I’d go with the trio that was so effective against Argentina. I’m still unconvinced about Dan Lydiate’s fitness, and ever since they were fielded together in the Six Nations I have been massively impressed at the way Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric complement each other. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big Lydiate fan, but he simply isn’t playing as well as he can at the moment, and for me, doesn’t deserve a start.
Moving down to the halfbacks, obviously Mike picks himself (where have all the scrum halves gone!?), and fortunately he’s in a rich vein of form at the moment after a fantastic performance against Argentina. Flyhalf is the more difficult selection, and as you’ve probably all seen on Facebook, fans and The Coal Face contributors alike are divided. Given that it’s such a debatable subject, I’ll give you my two cents on the 10 debate:
For me, Rhys Priestland is a better 10 than Dan Biggar. When he’s on form, Priestland offers more as a running threat, a distributor and a tactical kicker. However, right now, for whatever reason, Priestland simply isn’t up to it. My co-contributor Mongrel made the salient point that Priestland had the hardest game out of the three 10s, which is true; but what is also true is that Priestland was poor in that game – it wasn’t just the fact that the opposition were better. At the start of this series I was a big Priestland advocate; hopeful that the Scarlets playmaker was back to his best. I was wrong. For whatever reason, Priestland is not the player he once was, and for me, he’s not the 10 we need to pick if we want to beat Australia.
It may be that Dan Biggar isn’t either; however, at least with Biggar you know that he’s likely to do the basics right. If he can get the ball to George and Cuthbert (if he plays) then we’ve got a great chance of winning, and right now I trust Biggar to do that more than I trust Priestland.
In the centre I’ve opted for Scott Williams and Owen Williams. The coaches say that they are hopeful Scott will be available, and we should all be desperately hoping he is. If Scott is unable to play, there’s no doubt that Beck will replace him, which in my mind would be thoroughly detrimental to our chances of winning. If Scott doesn’t make it, I’d switch North to centre and play Liam Williams on the wing.
The whispers are that Cuthbert could be fit, and that would make a huge difference to our chances. North and Halfpenny pick themselves and if Cuthbert is able to join them, we could have a very potent attacking back three. If Alex doesn’t make it, then Liam Williams would slot in as his replacement.
Can we win?
Unfortunately for us, the shattered Australian confidence has been gradually rebuilt in the last three weeks, and they will be desperate to beat us and sign off their year with a win against the Six Nations champions.
In order to win, we must take our lead from the third Lions test, and smash Australia in the contact area, again and again and again. We need big performances from Gethin, Warburton, Faletau and Alun-Wyn. We need to take every point available to us. We need to give North and Cuthbert the ball. We need our backrow to be on Quade Cooper like white on rice. Quite simply, we need our best performance since that incredible win against England in the Six Nations. The time has come for another Southern Hemisphere scalp. I’m not interested in excuses and I don’t care how many injuries we’ve got. Anything other than a win is unacceptable.