Make no mistake; Saturday’s game is a very, very important for Wales. Having proved that his side is more than capable of toppling each of the other Northern Hemisphere sides, Warren Gatland has so far not been able to take us on to the next stage – beating the Southern Hemisphere sides with any degree of regularity.
Gatland was quick this week to suggest that Saturday’s game would be irrelevant to Wales and Australia’s World Cup game in two year’s time, but I’m afraid I simply don’t agree with him. I believe that is of fundamental importance that this crop of players experience exactly what it takes to beat Australia in the Welsh jersey. Without doing this, we will always be at a psychological disadvantage; and we all know how big a part psychology plays in the world of rugby.
When it comes to the World Cup, we realistically need to beat both Australia and Engand in our group in order to ensure a favourable draw when we get to the quarterfinals. If we haven’t beaten Australia by the time 2015 comes around, the chances of us beating them during the showpiece tournament diminish considerably.
Now that we’ve established just how important it is for Wales to beat Australia at the Millennium Stadium, let’s look at how they’re going to do it:
Keep Israel Folau quiet
Folau is the Wallabies dangerman and Wales must starve the rugby league convert of possession if we are to have any chance of winning this fixture. What this means in logisitical terms is that we must ensure that our tactical kicking and chasing is completely accurate, as a poor kick to Folau is like a red rag to a bull.
I think perhaps this is one of the reasons why Gatland has opted for Biggar ahead of Priestland, and with good reason. Priestland gave the ball away cheaply far too often against South Africa, and any loose possession is bound to be exploited by the counter-attacking Folau.
With Cuthbert back in the side, we have one of the paciest wingers in world rugby, and he will be crucial when it comes to the chase. If Cuthbert can time his run and get in Folau’s face then he’ll succeed in stopping the fullback doing his thing. And by his thing I mean beating players and scoring tries.
Be all over Quade Cooper
After an iffy year or so, Cooper’s return to form has been marvellous. He is one of the players I like watching the most and his sublime skill with ball in hand and superb distribution skills make him one of the most exciting rugby players on the planet right now. But I don’t want to see that on Saturday. I want Cooper to have a horrible game. I want Lydiate, Warburton, Faletau and Jenkins all over Cooper, hitting him very hard in possession and cutting down the space for the Queensland Red to attack.
When we’ve got the ball, we need to send our ball carriers right down Cooper’s channel; forcing him to make tackle after tackle. Anything we can do to throw Cooper off his game must be done, as if he’s on song, he has the ability to win the game for the Aussies.
Nullify Michael Hooper’s threat
With David Pocock injured, it was thought that Australia would struggle at the breakdown this year, but in reality, they’ve thrived with the emergence of openside flanker Michael Hooper. The 22-year old is a real pain in the neck for opposition, and if Wales give him any leeway he will make life very difficult for us.
With that in mind, it’s crucial that we don’t give him any opportunity to turn us. Too often Wales go isolated into contact, and quite simply, you can’t do that against Hooper. Alun-Wyn Jones has been one of the biggest culprits for this in recent games and it’s got to stop.
Reduce Genia’s time on the ball
One of the reasons why Australia can be so devastating with the ball in hand is that they’ve got a real general at scrumhalf. Will Genia is often behind anything good that Australia do, and if he has a good game; as he did in the first and second Lions tests this summer; he’s a very difficult man to stop.
My suggestion for dealing with Genia is to attempt to reduce the time the 9 has to use the ball. Via a fierce and aggressive counter-ruck, Wales can force Genia to get the ball out before the Wallabies backline has had time to set itself; and with our blitz defence, we can force them to play behind their own gainline. This creates mistakes and disrupts the flow; and disrupting Genia’s flow is going to be crucial in winning this game.
Remember that we can play rugby too
On the social networks and forums, plenty of people are suggesting that we should just play ‘up the jumper’ rugby for the entire eighty minutes. Whilst I can understand the wisdom behind such a suggestion, I’m afraid I don’t agree.
Whilst our forward pack is likely to be the key in winning this contest, we must remember that to beat the Southern Hemisphere sides you generally have to score tries. We must also remember that we have some very exciting players on the pitch who can and have scored important tries already in their young careers. We shouldn’t be afraid to get George North involved in the game, we shouldn’t be afraid to get the ball wide and let Cuthbert have a go. They say that fortune favours the brave, and it’s true – we must take some risks if we want to win this.
Nail every opportunity
We made more linebreaks against South Africa and lost. We scored tries against Argentina and Tonga, but again failed to convert a number of opportunities. We cannot afford to do that against Australia. Every single time we head into their 22 we must come back with points. Every time a player makes a linebreak, we must carry the momentum forward and turn it into five points. Composure has cost Wales dearly in the past, and if we’re not careful, it will again.
Thankfully, we have the world’s best kicker on our side. Halfpenny has been imperious with the boot so far this autumn, and I expect nothing different on Saturday. The last three games have been decided by less than 3 points which means every single kick must be kicked, and every single opportunity must be taken.
Can we do it?
Yes we can. We’re at home, this is our house, and we aren’t going to accept Australia coming in and beating us in our own backyard. Ireland, England and Scotland have all beaten Australia in the last three years, why haven’t we? We’re better than all the home nations, and it’s time to show the world that. Forget gallant losers, forget plucky underdogs, we want to be the best. We’re a better side than Australia and it’s time to show that on Saturday evening. Cymru am byth. Good luck boys.