Wales vs Australia: who should play and can we win?

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:

  1. Gethin Jenkins
  2. Richard Hibbard
  3. Rhodri Jones
  4. Ian Evans
  5. Alun-Wyn Jones
  6. Sam Warburton
  7. Justin Tipuric
  8. Toby Faletau
  9.  Mike Phillips
  10. Dan Biggar
  11. George North
  12. Scott Williams
  13. Owen Williams
  14. Alex Cuthbert (if fit)
  15. 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.

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5 Responses to Wales vs Australia: who should play and can we win?

  1. Charlie says:

    Excellent piece – and you almost got your team!

    thought Tonga were pretty average on the night, aside from their admirable commitment in contact they looked low on ideas. A few players impressed for me: Evans, Tipuric and R Jones in particular.

    There is a proviso though. I thought Ryan Jones had a great game as a forward and poor game as captain. A case could be made for giving him a pop at Australia from the start, but his authority didn’t extend to our second half decision making. Hook’s culpable too. We didn’t score a try in the second half, but we didn’t need to. We had possession, field position and a world-class kicker : we could and should have bled Tonga out of the game with kicks at goal. We did look like we were chasing a game, sending isolated backs to have a dash with little space when we were the ones in control. We cant afford any of that looseness against Australia.

    The scrum laws: I hate to agree with him, but when Richard Cockerill said the new laws simply swapped one mess for another, he had a point. I’ve seen them work and I’ve seen them look a shambles, and I do feel there isn’t a great deal of consistency (especially in terms of how much a ‘hit’ is permitted, and when) between referees. This seems to vary widely between northern and southern hem referees and it needs addressing fast. I thought on the night that Tonga were a bit sloppy with their timing and an older, wiser front row might have really made them pay.

    The Team
    Glad to see Ian Evans start (never, ever shirks), and while Beck might still produce the goods the inclusion of O Williams in his place looks sane enough. Williams had real threat and worked hard against the Tongan midfield. Hallam Amos was fast, keen and a bit green on the night. We will see him again but I would have worried about seeing him try to contain Australia’s back three. Clearly Wales are happy with Cuthbert but I worry about rushing back form injury without a game. Liam Williams looked good and I might have used him.
    I’m not convinced Biggar is a our best option, he’s our best option this week for sure. He has earned his start after a trying year, and if he picks up where he left off we should be ok.

    And a passing mention for Gatland’s 100th test. Possibly one of the uglier games he’s overseen, but he has given Welsh fans the luxury of complaining about the fashion in which we win.
    We owe this bloke big time.

    • Charlie says:

      Oh and I haven’t said it yet, but Mike Phillips is going absolutely brilliantly for Wales. I criticise him when he slows us up but his last two games for Wales have been class. How many scouts will be tuning in on Saturday?

  2. woodster says:

    Great comments as always Charlie. I think you’re spot on about Ryan and his poor captaincy in the second half. I can’t help but feel that they were essentially trying to put on a show for the Cardiff crowd by kicking to touch instead of taking the points but the end result was a frustrating and scrappy game that will most likely not inspire more kids to pick up a rugby ball.

    Gatland has been phenomenal for us, enough said.

    Phillips has been amazing, but I am still nonetheless concerned at the paucity of options behind him at 9. In the past we’ve had Dwayne Peel and then even Richie Rees; now we have an average Lloyd Williams and an inexperienced Rhodri Williams.

    • Charlie says:

      No 9 a really worrying area for Wales. The future front row concerns me but the players we have seen son far are looking solid enough, but if it Phillips hung up his boots tomorrow then we would really struggle. Wales in top gear rely on him, and there’s no obvious replacement. I’d like to see more of Tavis Knoyle if possible, I know we can’t ignore Rhodri Williams but Knoyle seemed to slot in well to Wales’ patterns when he did play.

      With him and Owen Williams leaving at the same time two promising Welsh backs went to play occasional rugby in the England, and for me that’s surely worse than getting starts in the top14. It’s one thing when established players head off (good luck to Ian Evans by the way, he’ll do well I reckon), we know we’ll see them again. But if young talent heads off to get starts only when the first choice is on international duty we could see good players missing important years in their careers. Don’t get me wrong, I hope they both nail down the starting spots and get exposure to a top-class competition. But it’s worrying for Wales. Maybe the Scarlets needed to balance the books, but surely a place could have been found elsewhere?

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