Do the Wallabies shuffle or stick?

Jack Quigley Columnist

By , Jack Quigley is a Roar Expert

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    Games against Wales always seem like a pretty big deal, such is the tradition and passion associated with the red jersey and the parochial Welsh crowd. But generally, as far results go, back-and-forth contests these are not.

    Going into the clash at the Millenium Stadium, the Wallabies have only succumbed to the Welsh twice in the last 26 years. Only the All Blacks can boast a more dominant streak – they haven’t lost to Wales since the 1950s.

    But it’s still a big game, even more so when you place it in the context of the first game of the United Kingdom tour. For the Wallabies, there are several personnel decisions to be made and what Wales opt to do could shape how those play out.

    Firstly, who kicks goals? Foley is the incumbent but has struggled to land the ones that count. Reece Hodge was given the tee against Japan and went 9-from-9 as he routinely sent the ball into orbit via the goal posts.

    Goal-kicking always plays a part on the spring tour. Games are generally not as open and free-flowing as the Rugby Championship and so the need to accrue points whenever possible increases.

    Wales’ coach Warren Gatland appears set to shift Liam Williams from fullback to the right win in order to accommodate sharp-shooter Leigh Halfpenny at No. 15.

    Against Japan, the Wallabies went big in the centres and enjoyed a great deal of success. The Japanese defensive line simply couldn’t cope with the physical challenge of Samu Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani together.

    With Israel Folau on sabbatical, it looks likely Kurtley Beale will stay at fullback, meaning the same centre pairing will likely line up against Wales.

    The temptation must be there for Michael Cheika to bring in Karmichael Hunt to offer a more reliable defensive option at 12.

    The centres weren’t tested defensively against Japan but they will be on Sunday. The Welsh have The Lions’ player of the series Jonothan Davies at 13 and Owen Williams looks set to play 12 for the hosts as Gatland searches for more creative options in attack.

    Wales managed only one try against Australia in their last meeting and were completely nullified in the 2015 World Cup pool match at Twickenham.

    Wales have even taken the unprecedented step of holding an opposed scrum and lineout session against rivals England in order to prepare both sides for the incoming southern hemisphere invasion.

    The 40-minute session was held behind closed doors and was monitored by referee Nigel Owens. Kiwi Glenn Jackson will be in charge for the weekend’s game, a referee that has struggled at times with managing the scrum contest.

    The Wallabies scrum has impressed recently, showing signs of getting back to the dominance it enjoyed during the 2015 World Cup, but when you’ve got potentially slippery underfoot conditions and a former fly-half holding the whistle, the importance of having a reliable goal kicker is amplified.

    Across the back row, Wales are suffering from a lack of depth at the open side flanker position.

    Sam Warburton is still out with a neck injury, and backup Justin Tipuric has also missed training this week, casting doubt over his inclusion.

    Ned Hanigan appears likely to get the nod at blindside flanker for Australia.

    Despite his best efforts, Hanigan has struggled to make an impact at Test level since debuting against Fiji earlier this year. With Wales set to name two-metre tall Aaron Shingler at 6, however, the Wallabies will likely go with Hanigan for his height to offer a second option at the lineout alongside Rob Simmons.

    The time for tinkering appears to be over for Cheika, though he may be cautious of showing Eddie Jones his full hand this weekend.

    The Wallabies have some scores to settle on this tour but, before Twickenham, there is a job to do in Cardiff.

    Jack Quigley
    Jack Quigley

    A long time sports writer and podcaster, Jack has spent the majority of his media career covering football and rugby. He recently joined The Roar on the back of penning a viral Facebook rant aimed at the Wallabies which attracted 60,000 likes and more than 6,000 shares. You can follow him on Twitter @Jack_Quigley.

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