Meanwhile, some updates on rugby back in Wales
The debate over Wallaby selections for the upcoming Tests is well under way here on The Roar. There are understandably fewer comments about the team arriving for a three match series, however.
So here are some notes on what’s been happening in Wales over the last couple of weeks.
Welsh provinces compete in the RaboDirect PRO12 League (known last season as the Magners League).
This is the competition which also features the top teams from Ireland, Italy and Scotland. Many rugby supporters down south will be well aware Leinster recently claimed the Heineken Cup after a victory over Ulster in the final.
Fewer, perhaps, will know that the season didn’t end there. As in France and England, there are playoffs to determine who claims the league titles and the PRO12 final just took place this weekend.
Only one Welsh team qualified for the play-offs this year, so most members of the Welsh squad travelling to Australia finished their regular season in the last round of league matches on the 5th May.
Welsh teams have a poor record in the Heineken Cup. They have never won it and the only side to make it to the final was Cardiff back in 1996. In the league, however, life has been better. Two Welsh sides have taken the title since the competition was set up and the Ospreys made this year’s play-offs, hoping for their fourth win.
It was a hard ask, since they had to travel to Leinster and face the recently-crowned Heineken champions. Leinster had topped the PRO12 table, finishing 10 points clear of the second-placed Opsreys. Even though Leinster didn’t field all the players who featured in the Cup victory, most pre-match forecasts tipped the Irish province to complete the double and, for much of the game, it seemed as if they would.
Leinster led 30-21 with sixteen minutes left but couldn’t close the game out. Instead, the Opsreys came back to claim a dramatic 30-31 win through a 78th minute try by Shane Williams which was then converted from the touchline by Dan Biggar.
It’s a small fillip for Welsh club rugby ahead of the tour. Many of these Ospreys are also in the provisional Wales squad, namely Adam Jones, Richard Hibbard, Paul James, Alun Wyn Jones, Ian Evans, Justin Tipuric, Ryan Jones, Dan Biggar, Ashley Beck, Ryan Bevington, Rhys Webb and Andrew Bishop.
Wales have a warm-up match against the Barbarians on June 2nd but it may not provide too many clues for Australian supporters.This is because Wales have decided to send 15 of their 34 man squad to Australia on the Thursday before that friendly. The remainder of the squad will follow the day after the match.
If you are wondering why that seems to leave only 19 players for the squad to face the Barbarians, the provisional squad is actually 38 players strong, with four not making the cut to go to Australia.
All the indications are that the initial travelling party will be the likely starting XV for the Test on June 9th at Suncorp. The idea seems to be to give them more time to acclimatize since, with the travel and time difference, they won’t arrive until early Saturday morning anyway.
If this does pan out as expected, then, barring injuries, none of the players taking on the Barbarians will be starting against Australia.
Warren Gatland has also spoken about his potential involvement.
He is still recovering at home from two broken heels and confirmed that he is not likely to be able to make the trip to Australia for the first Test. He has, however, suggested that he could yet be available to join the squad for the final two Tests.
His role will necessarily be restricted even if he can travel, but he is clearly keen to spend some time with the team.
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