Southern hemisphere win needed
LONDON — Warren Gatland may have tried to play it down, but the Wales coach knows better than anyone how much it would mean to his side to beat Australia in Cardiff today.
Reigning Six Nations champions Wales may have won two European Grand Slams since Gatland became their coach in 2008, but his adopted country’s record in the same time against southern hemisphere giants New Zealand, South Africa and Australia in the same period is dire, with just one win and 21 defeats.
Wales have lost their last eight Tests against Australia, albeit four of those reverses have been by three points or fewer, most recently in last year’s fixture at the Millennium Stadium where Kurtley Beale’s late try condemned the Welsh to a 14-12 defeat.
The losing streak is all the more concerning for Wales given they have been drawn alongside Australia and 2015 hosts England in the same World Cup “group of death”.
Gatland tried to explain that poor run of results by saying: “People have got to be aware that probably in the past we’ve used [the November internationals] as a preparation for the Six Nations because that’s our bread and butter — these are friendlies.
“Our focus has changed a bit this autumn.”
But unimpressed Wallaby coach Ewen McKenzie said: “They’ve decided suddenly it’s time to actually go out and beat those teams, I don’t know why they weren’t deciding that last year or the year before.
“He [Gatland] has been at it since 2008, he’s had plenty of time to make that decision.”
This year Gatland coached the British and Irish Lions to a 2-1 series win in Australia and 11 of the players from that squad are in his Wales starting lineup, including fit-again wing Alex Cuthbert and powerhouse flyer George North.
Completing the back three is fullback Leigh Halfpenny, man of the series in Australia, but still eager to transfer that form from the red shirt of the Lions to the red of Wales.
“We have been close many times now, one or two points in it,” Halfpenny said.
“It has been very frustrating at times when we’ve come off and felt like we played the better rugby, but it didn’t quite win the game.
“Now we have to go to that next level by beating the southern hemisphere teams like Australia,” added Halfpenny, a nominee for the International Rugby Board player of the year award.
One thing both packs in particular will hope for is an improvement in the quality of the Millennium’s notoriously poor pitch, otherwise scrums, as was sometimes the case on an unusually unstable surface at Murrayfield, could well become a lottery. — Sapa-AFP.
Wales coach Warren Gatland will hope his team’s fortunes change against southern hemisphere opponents when they take on Australia at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff today.