The Wallabies take on Wales at Millennium stadium for the final and most anticipated game of their European tour. Join us on The Roar for scores, comments and live updates from 1.30am Sunday AEDT.
With 14 tests and an expanded Super Rugby season, it’s been a busy year for the Wallabies. If they aren’t jaded they should be.
Of these tests, the Wallabies have won eight, lost five and drawn one. Notably, included in these eight wins was a 3-0 whitewash of the Welsh during their tour of Australia.
This record was enough to see them lose second spot to South Africa on the IRB world rankings, a position they can get back if they defeat Wales by 16 points or more this weekend.
Moving to this week and Robbie Deans’ men will be looking to dust themselves off after their most recent game; a bruising encounter against Italy which they won 22-19.
In this match the cliché ‘it’s a game of two halves’ rang true enough to almost be justified for use during the captain’s full-time interview.
The first half performance from the Australians produced a fluent, damaging and clinical attack. They racked up 22 points and a 16 point lead going into the sheds.
The Italians must have had better oranges as they bolted out the tunnel for the second half and played the game of their lives.
In the final stats Australia dominated in two notable areas: tackles, with Wycliff Palu leading the charge with 19, and kicking, with Kurtley Beale launching the oblong 13 times.
Tellingly, despite Australia’s first half dominance, by the time the final whistle blew Italy owned the stats for offloads, runs, metres and line-breaks.
The scoreboard, however, remains the final frontier for the Azzuri, who have not managed to beat Australia in 17 attempts.
And so the Wallabies dive into their final ruck of the year and in doing so send off their inspirational body-missile and captain Nathan Sharpe.
The man’s win record over his 115 tests for the national side exceeds 60 percent, not a bad statistic when you’re entire career is pegged against the most dominant side in rugby history, a title this current All Blacks side can claim.
If you take the New Zealanders out of the equation his win record spikes to 72 percent.
Unfortunate for Sharpe, like his coach, he will be judged on his record against the kiwis, not the rest of the world.
Wales coach Warren Gatland was drawn into this argument in the lead up to the game, when he came to the defence of Wallabies coach Robbie Deans and his squad.
“Their lack of consistency is only because they can’t beat the All Blacks, but not many of us can,” he said.
“It is a bit hard when you win the Tri-Nations last year, you finished second in the Rugby Championship this year, finish third in the World Cup and people want to get rid of you, isn’t it?”
Australian coach Robbie Deans was keener to discuss the Welsh in the lead up to the game “We’ve been in Cardiff all week,” Deans said.
“You pick up on how important rugby is to the nation … they have recent experience against this side and we have a lot of respect for their capabilities.
“In June, we were lucky enough to get up, but there was nothing in any of those encounters.
“We are up against a side that is desperate to win. We know they will throw everything at us.”
“Quick taps are a big part of their game. Quick throws will be as well. We’ve seen that in recent times.. and we will see it again on the weekend.”
To the Wallabies line-up, and Sitaleki Timani takes a spell on the dunce’s chair in row F, as he reflects on his striking charge and one match ban.
He will be missed, with enforcer Wycliff Palu noting “(Timani) is going to be a big loss for us. I love playing with him and seeing him in the D-line there.”
However even with Timani out, this is possibly the best team the Wallabies have fielded this year.
Bolstering their defence around the ruck will be Tatafu Polota-Nau who returns at hooker.
In-form livewire Nick Cummins takes his rightful place at wing, while world-class Drew Mitchell gets a guernsey at the other wing.
Kurtley Beale gets another run at fly half, with Ben Tapuai and Adam Ashley-Cooper outside him in midfield.
Most significant for the team is the return of David Pocock at flanker.
His starting berth meant the unseating of Michael Hooper; a player who could have been in the frame for IRB 2012 World Player of the Year nominations.
The latter takes their place on the bench, not a bad 60th minute introduction to the game. And no doubt Deans will utilise this option given Pocock’s lack of match fitness following his return from injury.
It’s unlikely Deans will have both fetchers on the field at the same time. While it would present a fascinating tag-team at the ruck, there may be perception that a pair of ball-fetching flankers undermines the lineout, pick and drive facets of game-play and defence around the ruck.
Higginbotham takes the blindside position to cover these requirements.
Other notable inclusions include Waratahs reserve Brendan McKibbin, who flew across to replace the injured Brett Sheehan.
If he comes off the bench to replace starter Nick Phipps, the 27-year-old will undermine his eligibility to play for the Scottish team. Curiously, if he’s not called on the field from the bench he can still play for Scotland at a later date.
Onto the opponents, and if Wales lose this test match it will be a massive blow for the proud rugby nation.
A loss will see them lose their top-eight seeding, meaning they’ll land in a bad place come Rugby World Cup 2015 by having to meet the big guns earlier in the draw.
To ensure this doesn’t happen, Gatland is looking to starve the Wallabies of possession and territory.
“We need to pick up from where we left off in the second half last week,” he said.
“We managed to retain 73 percent possession after the break against the All Blacks and win the territory battle and we need to put Australia under similar pressure from the outset.”
To the Wales starting team and Ryan Jones is benched to be replaced by in-form Aaron Shingler in the loose forwards.
Prop Aaron Jarvis is injured and replaced by Scott Andrews. Andrew Hore’s victim from last week, Bradley Davies, is replaced by lock Ian Evans due to a concussion.
English club Bath is not releasing their prop Paul James for his national duty; this game falls outside the IRB window and clubs were not required to release their players this week. As a result he’s replaced by Gethin Jenkins.
To combat Australia’s pair of world-class fetchers, Gatland has chosen the impressive Justin Tipuric at reserve flanker to support captain Sam Warburton. If Wales are going to win then Gatland needs his captain to stand up.
Australia has won seven in a row against the Welsh, and has never lost with referee Wayne Barnes at the whistle.
In an ominous fate for the Welsh, we can expect the battle at the breakdown to determine the winner this weekend.
Join us at 1.30am AEDT for the live scores and where you can have your say on the go.