Wales should have enough to snatch a win over Wal­la­bies, but don’t bet on it...

South Wales Echo - - Rugby Union - MARK OR­DERS Rugby cor­re­spon­dent mark.or­ders@waleson­line.co.uk

THE BBC box­ing pro­gramme in the dim and dis­tant past had al­most run its course when the pre­sen­ter John In­verdale asked his stu­dio guest Nigel Benn a ques­tion about the state of the sport.

Benn pon­dered his re­sponse for sev­eral sec­onds be­fore re­ply­ing: “I liked it when it was on ITV. I don’t fol­low it no more.”

An against-the-grain com­ment can ran­kle.

Which takes us to War­ren Gat­land’s post-match press con­fer­ence last week­end and his per­ceived ir­ri­ta­tion at be­ing asked about the im­por­tance of Wales get­ting a mon­key off their back by beat­ing Aus­tralia, their World Cup pool op­po­nents, in the fi­nal meet­ing be­tween the sides ahead of next year’s global show­piece in Ja­pan.

The query punc­tured the pos­i­tiv­ity that had been in the air, with some feel­ing there was scope for the coach to view it as putting pres­sure on his play­ers.

“It’s not so much about get­ting the mon­key off the back,” he said. “We’ve been un­lucky at times but it would be nice to win next week and get a re­sult.

“But the more im­por­tant game will be the pool game at the World Cup.”

He didn’t fire a death-ray stare at his in­quisi­tor but the chap wisely didn’t con­tinue with that line of ques­tion­ing.

THE PRES­SURE OF BE­ING FAVOURITES

Gat­land has needed to be light on his feet this week as book­mak­ers from Al­ba­nia to Zim­babwe have in­stalled Wales as favourites to end their 13-game los­ing run against the Wal­la­bies.

On the same day that Wales’ coach an­nounced his team, his op­po­site num­ber Michael Cheika was laud­ing Gat­land and call­ing the hosts “very well or­gan­ised and well drilled — it’s a great op­por­tu­nity for us to try to take the scalp”. Cheika is where every coach wants to be, lead­ing a side who are in the un­der­dog’s ken­nel.

Lose in Cardiff and he can point to the world rank­ings, which see Wales in third po­si­tion and his own team in sixth, and say to crit­ics: “What did you ex­pect?”

Win and there will be queues of peo­ple want­ing to pat his back.

Lit­tle won­der that Gat­land has tried to man­age ex­pec­ta­tions, say­ing that any­one who writes off Aus­tralian teams does so at their peril.

His chal­lenge is to en­sure Wales deal with some­thing they have not had to con­tend with in this fix­ture for a decade or longer, namely the bur­den of favouritism.

The for­mer New Zealand hooker has had to tread the fine line be­tween bol­ster­ing his play­ers’ sense of be­lief and un­der­lin­ing that the Wal­la­bies are prob­a­bly not as bad as the whole world and his wife are mak­ing out.

AUS­TRALIA’S LOS­ING RUN

Yes, Cheika’s team have man­aged a measly three wins over their last 10 matches.

But six of those en­coun­ters have been against the top two sides in the global rat­ings, New Zealand and Ire­land. And two more of them have been against South Africa, who have been show­ing signs of se­ri­ous improve­ment.

So, maybe, just maybe, a side that con­tains David Po­cock, Michael Hooper, Will Ge­nia, Bernard Fo­ley, Kurt­ley Beale and Is­rael Fo­lau could still have some­thing about them.

And yet it is un­de­ni­able that losses can frac­ture the con­fi­dence of even ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers and so Wales will want to start well and plant fur­ther doubts in Wal­laby minds.

HIS­TORY LES­SONS

It’s cer­tainly over­due for the tide to turn in the se­ries be­tween th­ese two.

Once, Wales held an 8-5 lead in wins against Aus­tralia, but since the 1987 World Cup the Wal­la­bies have piled up 25 vic­to­ries out of 28 games, with one match drawn.

At times, the gulf has been enor­mous and em­bar­rass­ing.

Rewind to 1991 and an en­tire Wales squad sit­ting grim-faced at a post­match func­tion lis­ten­ing to an Aus­tralian co­me­dian gain­ing cheap laughs at their ex­pense.

Just hours ear­lier the team had been a laugh­ing stock on the pitch as New South Wales handed out a 71-8 hid­ing.

Af­ter the comic had done his stuff, tour man­ager Clive Row­lands is said to have ranted and raged on the bus tak­ing the Welsh party back to their ho­tel.

Welsh rugby came close to hit­ting rock bot­tom on that trip and in the process learned les­sons that ring true to­day.

One of those in­volves al­ways be­ing re­al­is­tic about the chal­lenge ahead.

In his book, Rais­ing the Dragon: A Clar­ion Call to Welsh Rugby, Robert Jones re­calls the then Wales coach Ron Wal­dron de­scrib­ing David Cam­pese as a “s **** y-ar­sed winger” dur­ing his pre-match talk.

Cam­pese was a bit more than that. In fact, he was a lot more than that.

He couldn’t have heard the com­ment.

But the leg­endary flyer, as close to a rugby ma­gi­cian as there’s been, went on to have a blinder, any­way, scor­ing five tries.

Ev­i­dently, Welsh rugby’s am­a­teur­era anal­y­sis de­part­ment – which may or may not have served the then na­tional coach with that piece of in­tel­li­gence about one of the most ex­cit­ing wings the world has seen – was still re­fin­ing its act.

There is no Campo in Aus­tralia’s team this week­end, but there are con­jurors such as Fo­lau, Beale, Fo­ley and Ge­nia. Any loose kick­ing to that lot, along the lines of the stuff dished up by the Wales half-backs against Scot­land last week­end, and, as sure as night fol­lows day, the cel­e­bra­tory strains of Waltz­ing Matilda will echo around Prin­ci­pal­ity Sta­dium.

AUS­TRALIAN PROB­LEMS

The other side of the coin is that the quar­tet could be put un­der pres­sure if Wales are able to set in place the plat­form for the likes of Jonathan Davies and Ge­orge North to carry ball.

Dur­ing their dif­fi­cult sea­son, Aus­tralia have been aw­ful in de­fence at times, while their line-out has splut­tered, their scrum took a past­ing off New Zealand last time out and their front five gave away six penal­ties be­tween them. Aus­tralia are miss­ing the re­tired Stephen Moore at hooker and they are strug­gling to set­tle on a top-notch blind­side flanker, though young­ster Jack Dempsey is show­ing

prom­ise. It is up to the hosts to ex­ploit such is­sues.

If Wales are to win, half-backs Gareth Davies and Gareth An­scombe have to boss the game and Gat­land could also do with Hadleigh Parkes re­turn­ing to his best.

His team will need to be phys­i­cal at break­downs and play Hooper and Po­cock off the ball.

High-qual­ity car­ry­ing and ef­fi­cient ball pre­sen­ta­tion would help com­bat the pair, too, but let no one un­der­es­ti­mate the scale of the chal­lenge.

Nor would it hurt for the Li­ons in the start­ing line-up, led by Alun Wyn Jones, to per­form as well as they did against Scot­land. It will not be the end of the world if Wales lose, but a win would send con­fi­dence soar­ing.

ANY­ONE FOR A GAM­BLE?

Gam­ble at your peril, mind. In 2013, a punter from Tonyre­fail wa­gered £30,000 on Wales to beat Aus­tralia, only for Quade Cooper to get out of his ho­tel bed on the right side and pro­duce a dis­play that had even Barry John ap­plaud­ing.

“My part­ner wanted a pair of slip­pers from John Lewis but we’ll have to leave that now,” the chap later joked as he counted his losses.

Aus­tralia can be re­lied on to carry a heart­breaker or two in their ranks.

Still, Wales may just have enough to edge it.

But any­one gam­bling £30,000 on this en­counter should brace them­selves for a ner­vous evening.

Michael Cheika will be happy his Aus­tralia team has been handed un­der­dog sta­tus

War­ren Gat­land has stressed the im­por­tance of con­ti­nu­ity in the build-up to to­day’s game against the Wal­la­bies Ben O’Ke­effe (New Zealand) Ro­main Poite, Bren­don Pick­er­ill (New Zealand) Si­mon Mc Dow­ell (Ire­land) BBC2 from 5pm; S4C from 4.50pm.

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