Reasons to be cheerful on chances of Welsh win
OPTIMISM does not come naturally to me, so something must have changed for me to believe that Wales has their best chance in a decade of beating Australia.
My reasoning for this is several fold. Firstly, Wales are on a roll. They have a run of victories behind them, inspiring confidence and belief.
Secondly, the game is in Cardiff, giving the home side an emotional edge and most of the referee’s 50-50 calls.
And finally, Australia are not the team they were.
Before everyone starts disagreeing and pointing out how competitive the Wallabies were against New Zealand in Japan just a few weeks ago, I am looking more at their body of work over the last three months.
They have been poor. Losing matches easily, having to re-structure their backline and having to fight fires off the field.
Australia still have the same talented players that have beaten Wales over the years but I think they have lost the cohesion and more importantly, the summer defeats mean that they have lost that psychological edge that made them tough to beat.
Warren Gatland has made some interesting selections. The most unexpected for me was that Liam Williams didn’t make the starting XV. For me, he is a nailed-on starter and I would position the rest of the back three around him. He is too good a rugby player not to be on the pitch.
Josh Adams impressed with a memorable try on the summer tour. He is a fine winger and seems to score lots of tries. You can’t ask for much more.
If Australia get some possession, they will test his decision-making in defence with their high-tempo passing style.
It was no surprise that Gareth Anscombe kept Dan Biggar on the bench. He is a genuine running threat and the ability of a fly-half to engage defenders is vital for opportunities to be created in wider channels.
Where Anscombe was deficient last Saturday was in his kicking game. Too many times he chose to kick when he shouldn’t have and compounded matters with poor execution.
Indeed, that was one of the more perplexing issues about the Scotland game. Wales dominated up front, they won the collisions comfortably, yet they had such little possession.
How does that happen? It happened mainly because Wales were lacking the patience and confidence to keep the ball anywhere other than in the opposition 22.
Wales will have to be more willing to hold onto possession against Australia or they will get punished.
Dan Lydiate had one of his better games for a couple of years. He made a powerful run, showed good hands and won a jackal penalty. Indeed, in 2016 he played against the Wallabies when Wales were swept aside 32-8 in a match that was simply too quick for him.
The constantly-moving targets and speed at which the ball was moved from the tackle and how quickly the ball seemed to be flying around, left Wales chasing shadows. The Welsh back-row was ineffectual that day.
It was the same one that starts on Saturday.
Many of the Australia team that played that day are also playing again this weekend and this time, Lydiate and his two colleagues will have to show he can make an impression in this type of game.
In the past, Wales have looked to slow down Australia but they have never been able to subdue them enough to win the match.
Of course, Wales must make things difficult for the Wallabies in possession, but they almost get into a mindset of being a defensive side when they are trying to impede their opponents.
I think that Wales should trust themselves that they can create and score tries.
I was hoping to see Dillon Lewis start again, but he makes way for Tomos Francis. Lewis offers much more around the park and we would have learned much more about his development as a scrummager, had he faced Scott Sio from the beginning.
If there are lot of scrums, Francis is your man. If not, Wales are losing a valuable contributor in general play.
So, how will Wales win this match? By going up a level. They will use strike moves from first phase to cause problems. I also think that Australia will struggle with the rush defence and Wales will force open some superficial cracks in this stuttering Aussie outfit.
Leigh Halfpenny will kick everything, and when it comes to the final crucial minute when Wales usually throw away a potential victory, this time they will prevail. This time, Wales are fitter, have a strong bench, and this time they believe they can win.
> Josh Adams pressed his claims with Wales in the summer, but Australia will test his defence