Wallabies’ marathon season nearly over
Adam Ashley-Cooper (C) catches the ball during the International Rugby Union match between Italy and Australia at the Artemio Franchi Stadium in Florence on November 24, 2012. (AFP / GABRIEL BOUYS)
The Wallabies can see the finish line to their marathon season with captain Nathan Sharpe’s final game sure to fuel a strong closing burst against Wales.
Australia will be playing their 15th Test of the year when they face the Welsh at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday (Sunday AEDT) in a season-ending match for both sides.
Amazingly, the Wallabies will finish the season having played three more Tests than South Africa and England.
Not only do the Wallabies have the Sharpe factor to spur them on, but they can also retain their world No.2 ranking, something fullback Berrick Barnes said would be a great achievement in an injury-plagued year.
“It would be huge,” Barnes said.
“We started there and to finish there would be a great reward for a lot of the hard work the blokes have put in.
“Especially the coaching staff, you’ve got to take your hats off to them.
“We’ve been like a hotel this year. People have been coming to stay left, right and centre and leaving.
“The way they’ve adjusted to it and handled it is a credit to them.”
Australia’s high turnover of players is demonstrated by the fact that only three members of the starting side from the corresponding fixture from last will feature this weekend.
Barnes, centre Adam Ashley-Cooper and flanker Scott Higginbotham are the surviving starters from that match which Australia won.
Last year’s World Cup finalists and Six Nations Grand Slam winners Wales are looking to avoid a seventh consecutive Test defeat after going down 33-10 to New Zealand last weekend.
Half of Wales’ six straight Test losses came against the Wallabies in the three-Test June series in Australia.
Coach Robbie Deans says there is always the risk players can think beyond games at the end of a long season but he believes there is too much on the line for that to happen.
“There’s always the potential for them to be thinking beyond,” Deans said.
“They also have the knowledge that with the final whistle there’s some respite coming.”
Deans praised Sharpe who called off retirement plans twice to help the injury-ravaged Wallabies and will play 116th and final Test in Cardiff.
When asked if Sharpe would be a motivating factor for the Wallabies Deans said: “They’re very conscious of Sharpey’s predicament.”
“He’s given this young group a great start. He’s been a good source of counsel, a good source of composure and has led effectively as well.”
Champion flanker David Pocock makes his long-awaited return from injury to resume hostilities with Welsh counterpart and captain Sam Warburton after being sidelined with a knee injury since August.
The pair scrapped and scavenged in the June series where each Test was hard-fought with the biggest winning margin in a match was eight points.
Wales coach Warren Gatland has made four changes to his side.
The home side lost to Argentina, Samoa and New Zealand this November and a loss to Australia will see them drop out of the top-eight seeds and leave them open for a tougher group for the 2015 World Cup with the draw happening in London on Monday.
Gatland has brought in Scott Andrews for injured tighthead prop Aaron Jarvis, while lock Ian Evans comes in for Bradley Davies, who was ruled out after being struck by All Blacks hooker Andrew Hore last weekend.
Aaron Shingler replaces Ryan Jones in the back row with the latter dropping to the bench while Toulon prop Gethin Jenkins comes in for Paul James, who has returned to his English club Bath.© AAP 2014