Aus­tralia’s tough year can end on high if his­tory re­peats it­self in Wales

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SPORTS - PAUL REES

Pre­view Aus­tralia v Wales Prin­ci­pal­ity Sta­dium, 5.20 Live on TV: BBC2

As Aus­tralia seek refuge as they ap­proach the end of a stormy year, Cardiff is not the last place they would have cho­sen to dock.

The Wal­la­bies have won their past 13 in­ter­na­tion­als against Wales, of­ten se­cur­ing vic­tory in the clos­ing mo­ments. They have won by a dou­ble-fig­ure mar­gin only twice in that run but their dom­i­nance over Wales is such that since los­ing to them in the 1987 World Cup third-place play-off, they have been beaten only twice in 28 Tests. While form favours Wales, who are on their best run of vic­to­ries for five years, his­tory is a coun­ter­weight to Aus­tralia’s se­quence of nine de­feats in 12 Tests since they won in Cardiff a year ago.

“I would say, not that I care, that the ma­jor­ity of guys in our team would not know about our run against Wales,” says the Aus­tralia head coach, Michael Cheika. “You al­ways have to look at the 80 min­utes ahead of you. Ev­ery­thing else is con­jec­ture and small talk . . . We don’t mind run­ning as the un­der­dog: we will en­joy that sta­tus and get to Cardiff, where we love play­ing.”

Aus­tralia made the last World Cup fi­nal, but they are vir­tu­ally back to where they were in 2014 when Cheika took over, the third head coach in lit­tle more than a year af­ter Rob­bie Deans was sacked and Ewen McKenzie re­signed. Their form since then has been more down than up: since los­ing to New Zealand in the World Cup fi­nal, they have played 39 in­ter­na­tion­als, win­ning 16 and draw­ing two. They have lost to Eng­land and Ire­land in se­ries at home and were beaten by Scot­land in a one-off match in Syd­ney in 2017. They are sixth in the world rank­ings, and lost at home to Ar­gentina in the Rugby Cham­pi­onship only to over­turn a 31-7 half-time deficit in Salta three weeks later.

Yet on pa­per, they look at least as strong as Wales. Seven of to­day’s side have won more than 50 caps, along with four of the re­place­ments, and in Is­rael Fo­lau, Kurt­ley Beale, David Po­cock and Michael Hooper have play­ers whose names would be men­tioned in a se­lec­tion meet­ing for a World XV.

Wales won six of their first eight matches with Aus­tralia in Cardiff, but the Wal­la­bies have pre­vailed in 15 of the next 18 with the sides draw­ing in 2006.

Pa­trick Cohn, an Amer­i­can men­tal games coach, wrote that an in­abil­ity to beat one par­tic­u­lar team over a long pe­riod of time can have a dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on how you ap­proach a game.

While Wales have not de­feated the Wal­la­bies this decade, New Zealand have done so 22 times, Eng­land nine, South Africa seven, Ire­land five, Scot­land three and France and Ar­gentina twice. – Guardian

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