Will the Welsh defy the Wallabies?
This is the first part of my article on this evening’s Wallabies game against Wales. Coming soon is the second part, where I compare today’s predictions with tonight’s outcomes.
Prediction: The Welsh will bring their A game and the pressure will tell on the Wallabies. The Wallabies will realise that they need the Trois Enfant Terriblé of O’Connor, Beale and Cooper a lot more than they thought.
Despite the betting markets reflecting more support for the Wallabies, I predict that the Welsh will win a close one on the back of a much better performance than last week and parity at the breakdown. The Wallabies backs will struggle because the fly half is under pressure and the Welsh will kick their goals and their outside backs will eventfully reap the rewards of the hard work from the forwards.
Wales get back Gatland, their experienced and motivational if not domestically challenged coach, albeit unofficially.
The Welsh will start playing from the kickoff rather than late in the second half. The Welsh spine of Halfpenny, Priestland, Phillips, Warburton and Rees will perform much better than in the first game and nearer to their previous high standards. North will cause all sort of problems for Vuna. Watch out for an impressive performance from Ashley Beck in the centres.
It all starts at the breakdown. The Wallabies dominated the breakdown last week. This week, the Welsh will achieve parity with their physical, forward pack. No team will dominate the breakdown against the Wallabies while Pocock, and now Hooper, are around.
However, parity can and will cause a ripple effect through the Australian backs. Genia will be less effective but still competent. Barnes will have fewer opportunities, less time and be under more pressure. This is the fulcrum of this game and the series.
Barnes has more respect for the jersey than to openly carry on with the panic decisions and then the huffing and puffing that he displays at the Waratahs. However, it may still be going on in his head. If he cannot control this urge, or deflect the Welsh “attention”, the Wallabies will be in for a long and disappointing night. Quick hands to well placed support runners is the answer. Barnes is not that sort of fly half!
A comparison of each team’s spines is a close run thing. The Welsh win fullback and fly half. The Wallabies win halfback, number 8 and hooker. The main contentious position is fullback. Halfpenny can match Adam Ashley-Cooper’s traditional strengths such as in the air, but exceeds him in open field running.
The Welsh have a lot more to lose than the Wallabies this week. The Rugby World Cup playoff had little meaning. The subsequent rematch in Wales was a fundraiser and a bridge too far for the Welsh who were into their domestic season.
Last week, the Welsh were surprisingly off the pace. This Saturday’s game is their last chance to prove that they are the real deal. The Wallabies, on the other hand, are already through to the final of this three game tournament. Despite the Welsh being so average last week, the Wallabies only scampered home by 8 points.
The Wallabies showed that they are still capable of relaxing at critical stages just like the 2008-2011 versions. This will again occur this weekend.