Australia's James O'Connor is tackled by Wales' Toby Faletau. AP Photo/Rob Griffith

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After 62 minutes of a hard, engrossing Test between Wales and France at Millennium Stadium on Saturday, the visitors tried to spark one of their sporadic but menacing counter-attacks with the scoreboard favouring the Welsh at 13-6.

Replacement fullback Jean-Marcelin Buttin took a flat ball in midfield where rumours of space were beginning to emerge. For a second it looked like he might get in behind the Welsh.

Then came the collision.

It sounded like a clap of thunder through the microphone of referee Craig Joubert, an eyewitness nearby. It was the thud of Welsh blindside flanker Dan Lydiate closing the door in Buttin’s face with such velocity that it lifted Welsh lock Ian Evans off his feet as Buttin ricocheted into him and spilt the ball.

It was the tackle that would have been heard in North Sydney. Not since the England side of 2002-2003, has the northern hemisphere supplied a team that threatens the southern superpowers quite the way Wales do.

Little wonder that Michael Lynagh, who works as an analyst for Sky Sports in the UK, said this in the aftermath of Wales’ Grand Slam win: “Wales are certainly capable of beating Australia this summer.”

Praising northern hemisphere sides is a precarious business, but you can admire them without being either a deluded apologist or on the payroll. Lydiate is one of seven Welsh players who are, on current form, superior to their Wallaby counterparts.

It is a rather crude analytical tool, but in a hypothetical XV, five positions would be locked down by Australians and the remaining three would be decided either by a brawl or a toss of the coin. Let’s start with the positions where the Welsh have the edge.

The Welsh scrum is the finest in Europe, with tight-head Adam Jones far in advance of any Australian cornerstones. In the second row, Alun Wyn-Jones has matured into the sort of engine-room powerhouse the Wallabies thought they were getting with the return of Dan Vickerman.

At No.8, the bruising Toby Faletau grabs the jersey on the back of another hard-shouldered display against France. Radike Samo is fine in open spaces but he had an underwhelming World Cup and Wycliff Palu simply needs to string some games together.

On the blindside Lydiate, an inspirational tackling machine, is ahead of Scott Higginbotham not on talent but on what he has done with it. Higginbotham, with that imposing chassis, is not the yet dominant force his potential suggests he can be.

In the centres, there is no reason to split the partnership of Jamie Roberts and Johnathan Davies, a mix of brute power and classy touches. And they are only going to get better. Roberts is still only 25 and at 109kg gets over the gainline like no other back in world rugby. The Wallabies are still searching for their midfield.

On one wing would lurk the 110kg George North, whose surprisingly light feet and security under the high ball makes him much more than just a bulldozer.

Stephen Moore is the first of the Australian probables, at hooker, although he is not at the level which prompted Sean Fitzpatrick to crown him the world’s best a few years back.

Among the backs, the peerless Will Genia, who was wonderful against the Sharks at the weekend, commands the No.9 jersey. Mike Phillips is a brute, but no one runs the game or sees the space like Genia. Pray for his continued health, because there is a long way down until the next best.

James O’Connor occupies the No.10 spot, because room must be made for that footwork and pace. In addition, Rhys Priestland’s form has been poor at times during the Six Nations. He looks a little weary.

Digby Ioane rediscovered something close to his best form in Durban and is a certainty for the No.11 jersey, dubious tackle technique notwithstanding.

At fullback, the powerful claims of Leigh Halfpenny, admired recently by Roar colleague David Campese, must regrettably be ignored. Without Quade Cooper we must look elsewhere for a little magic and it comes in the form of Kurtley Beale – if those worrying series of injuries clear up.

Now things become particularly heated.

At openside David Pocock would be in the team by Monday but by Tuesday Sam Warburton’s all-round game would prompt a re-think. On Wednesday a coaching meeting is required to see who wants to flip a coin. They are that close.

Getting caught at the wrong side of the ruck is among the little flaws that are holding James Horwill back from the pinnacle. It is difficult to look innocuous standing at 200cm and 118kg in a bright yellow jersey. But his experience probably gives him the start ahead of Ian Evans, whose injuries have kept him back until now.

On the loose-head side of the scrum Gethin Jenkins and Benn Robinson share technical excellence at the set-piece and a scavenger’s instinct at the breakdown. But Robinson is still on the comeback from that injury and Jenkins’ extra mobility might appeal.

It is fitting that we finish on a call that could go either way.

Of course, no one can predict the state of Welsh minds and bodies when they touch down in Australia for the three June Tests. Already, an injury cloud is hanging over Warburton, who admitted his body has been “creaking” since the World Cup.

They practically jumped straight off the plane from New Zealand and into club duties and have been playing ever since.

But this Welsh side is good enough to beat the Wallabies in Australia.

Can they win twice and take the series? Perhaps we need to flip another coin. A series win might have to wait until the following year, when many of the Welsh team will return as part of the British and Irish Lions.

Paul Cully
Paul Cully

Paul Cully is a freelance journalist who was born in New Zealand, raised in Northern Ireland, but spent most of his working life in Australia. He is a former Sun-Herald sports editor, rugby tragic, and current Roar and RugbyHeaven contributor.

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The Crowd Says (90)

  • March 22nd 2012 @ 5:03am
    Ben S said | March 22nd 2012 @ 5:03am | ! Report

    ‘Not since the England side of 2002-2003, has the northern hemisphere supplied a team that threatens the southern superpowers quite the way Wales do.’

    Strongly disagree with this. Ireland and France have produced some excellent sides during that period.

    Wales, despite their win, still have an awful lot to prove down south. They didn’t exactly dominate the 6N, tbh. Anyway, to cut a long story short they certainly are capable of beating Australia, yes, and they are probably more capable than they have been in a good while. They have some fine, fine players, and greater depth than they have probably ever had in the professional era. This is good for the game, but I wager the usual naysayers will come out citing previous records, which totally misses the point… I’m very much looking forward to the games. They will be massive for Wales and also Robbie Deans after what happened in the WC.

    • Roar Guru

      March 22nd 2012 @ 6:44pm
      Jiggles said | March 22nd 2012 @ 6:44pm | ! Report

      Got to Agree, I think France and Ireland have put out better teams since the 2002-03 England team, who I rate as the best ever international team of the professional era.

      Wales are a talented team, but I think they have a bit to prove especially against the 3N teams who they haven’t beaten at away from home for a while, but like you said this is a totally different team to what we have seen.

      Will the beat Australia? I don’t think they will win the series but they will beat us in a game which the press will call an ‘upset.’ It will go the same way all our ‘upsets’ have gone in the Deans era. The team totally underestimating the opposition and therefore getting dominated at the breakdown. Deans will hold onto his position despite bumbling through the Wales tour and Rugby Championship before being beaten 3-0 in the Lions tour.

      • March 22nd 2012 @ 8:52pm
        Ben S said | March 22nd 2012 @ 8:52pm | ! Report

        People would be right to question Wales after recent two performances against Australia, tbf, but as you say this is a new team (in theory anyway). I can’t see Wales winning the series, but if they are on the up then they need to win a game. The plucky loser tag can’t be waved about anymore. This is a good squad with high intentions. Massive for both sides, although I think it’s more significant for Deans.

        • Roar Guru

          March 23rd 2012 @ 4:15am
          Jiggles said | March 23rd 2012 @ 4:15am | ! Report

          Its going to be a bit of a strange series to be honest with a bit of context. if its a 3 nil win to Australia, it will be seen as more than business as usual despite the way we actually played, with the main stream media telling us that we have finally got our act together. If Australia loose a game Deans should really start to feel the pressure, and Wales will take the ‘moral’ victory leading into the Lions tour. The other variable is a possible loss to the Scotts in the first test of the mid year window, which is a real possibility. Either way I expect more of the same from the wales series this year, fumbling and bumbling, with no game plan, and a moment of brilliance from a young star.

          With the probable lions pack you mentioned in the other thread, I doubt we can win that series in 2013 with Deans in charge.

          • March 23rd 2012 @ 4:30am
            Ben S said | March 23rd 2012 @ 4:30am | ! Report

            Equally, if Wales lose 3-0 then it’s more of the same ‘young and building and on the rise etc.’ Each side needs something tangible. All these media platitudes are boring. I think the same applies to England and SA this summer.

  • March 22nd 2012 @ 5:08am
    wre01 said | March 22nd 2012 @ 5:08am | ! Report

    I don’t think the Welsh will beat Australia unless the Wallabies are bad- you forget that Australia comprehensively outplayed the same Welsh team in Cardiff, this year, at a packed Millenium Stadium, on Shane Williams last test and following beating Wales at the RWC.
    Warburton is nowhere near as good as Pocock yet- he did not come up against a genuine 7 throughout the entire Six Nations. O’Brien, Bonairre and Robshaw are all sixes and have no ability on the floor. On top of that, Warburton has nerve damage in his shoulder and is a week to week proposition injury wise. He doesn’t appear to be as durable as McCaw or Pocock.
    Wales are by far the best 6 Nations side at the moment but this year was characterised by teams either in rebuilding phases (England/ Scotland) or teams refusing to dump the old for the new (Ireland/France). By and large, with the exception of England v Wales and also Ireland v Wales, the rugby played was nowhere near Trinations standard. I was at the Ireland v England game on St Paddy’s day, and despite the great atmosphere, it was one of the most terrible exhibitions of rugby I’ve seen. It was capped off by England taking 3 points while 19 up with 3 minutes to play.
    The British and Irish Lions will beat Australia next year and I think Wales will push the southern hemisphere teams all the way in 2015 but they aren’t quite ready to beat Australia at home.

    • March 22nd 2012 @ 5:14am
      Ben S said | March 22nd 2012 @ 5:14am | ! Report

      It’s not the same Welsh team that played in December though.

      Try and check out the highlights of when Warburton played against Pockock a season or two ago. Totally neutralised him.

  • March 22nd 2012 @ 5:15am
    kingplaymaker said | March 22nd 2012 @ 5:15am | ! Report

    I would disagree and would say Wales will be little short of a cakewalk.

    This article bases its judgements of Welsh players on their performances against teams ranked between 4 and 12 in the world, and compares them to Wallaby players on their performances against teams ranked between 1 and 3. Sure Dan Lydiate and George North look great against a laughable French team or Scotland, but it’s rather harder to look good against Australia or New Zealand, as Wales discovered against an injury-ravaged Wallabies in the third place play-off.

    The only northern hemisphere teams which threaten the Wallabies are those with POWERHOUSE PACKS that can outmuscle their undersized forwards. Now Wales’ pack is a powerhouse at scrummaging, but NOT in the loose. Ireland, England and France could threaten the Wallabies with their monstrous packs in the loose, but this is where Wales fall down and what will prevent them from threatening the Wallabies.

    What’s more, while there is plenty of size in the backs, there is little creativity or any real talent. The whole backline is good, but none is a star. George North may look like a star against Scotland but would be chopped down with ease by the southern hemisphere teams.

    In a combined XV, Wales would get their centres into the backline simply because Australia have no centres at all. If JOC were moved to 12, then they would only have one player in the backline. Neither of the Welsh wings is better than Drew Mitchell or Cooper Vuna, let alone Digby Ioane.

    In the pack, only one or two of the props would make the Wallabies, depending on Benn Robinson’s fitness. To compare Sam Warburton against David Pocock is fantastical. Dan Lydiate is a deeply limited player who does little more than tackle, and with far less ferocity than he is credited for: Jean-Marcellin Buttin weighs 90kg.

    Wales suffer from having many players who are quite good and almost none who are really good: no Henson or Shane Williams at present.

    This is not to bag northern hemisphere rugby, as three teams could well threaten the Wallabies, but Wales looks to be the one that won’t.

    • March 22nd 2012 @ 6:36am
      Ben S said | March 22nd 2012 @ 6:36am | ! Report

      Re: Australian performances. You seem to be forgetting their recent results against Ireland and England, so compare like and like. Does Ireland have a POWERHOUSE PACK? Not sure it does.

      You’ve never seen Wales dominate possession against Australia then?

      If you don’t see the value in Lydiate then you’re revealing the fact that you’ve never been involved in forward play. He’s more than a defender, which is probably why his teammates rate him so highly.

      I’m pretty sure that George North is better than Vuna. Pretty sure. I’m pretty sure that he’s scored against South Africa too. Did the Boks chop him down with ease?

      You’ve made various references across various threads re: Pocock v Warburton, whilst ignoring the key fact that the last time they met Warburton totally and utterly neutralised Pocock.

    • March 22nd 2012 @ 12:38pm
      PD said | March 22nd 2012 @ 12:38pm | ! Report

      Wales are much better than you give them credit for and will be a good test for the wallabies this year. I have to disagree with your comment on Wales centres. Jamie Roberts is simply outstanding and has been for some time. He pushed Wales to almost upsetting South Africa at the WC and was brilliant during the last irish tour. IMO he will be giving Robbie Deans a big headache.

  • March 22nd 2012 @ 7:47am
    Sam Taulelei said | March 22nd 2012 @ 7:47am | ! Report

    As much as its a battle between the players its a huge contest between the coaches as well. Especially as they could be head to head again next year when the Lions tour.

    This will be the series to watch in June and should attract widespread appeal and interest.

    • March 22nd 2012 @ 8:38am
      Justin said | March 22nd 2012 @ 8:38am | ! Report

      Well I dont even need to see Wales play to know who would win that coaching battle Sam 😉

      • March 22nd 2012 @ 9:07am
        Sam Taulelei said | March 22nd 2012 @ 9:07am | ! Report

        Ha ha ha, how did you insert that smiley face Justin?

        As a fan I hope that many of the Welsh players mentioned here by Paul make the flight to Australia and bring their “A” game with them.

        All the past matches and match ups only serve to tell us what happened then but not necessarily what will happen in three months time. It is after all a contest and just because you lost or won in the past doesn’t guarantee the same result next time.

        • March 22nd 2012 @ 1:31pm
          Justin said | March 22nd 2012 @ 1:31pm | ! Report

          Sam the wink face is using the ; ) keys but without the space 😉

      • March 22nd 2012 @ 9:29am
        johnny-boy said | March 22nd 2012 @ 9:29am | ! Report

        But we’ve got the worlds greatest coach and we are paying him a million dollars a year apparently to teach us how to play like the Crusaders ie don’t be adventurous just kick the ball to the opposition and see if they make a mistake.

        • March 23rd 2012 @ 12:11am
          stillmatic1 said | March 23rd 2012 @ 12:11am | ! Report

          and where did being adventurous ever get the wallabies, J.B? it would be a stretch to call any of the wallaby teams in the professional era adventurous under any coaching regime! so its a bit of a myth that the wallabies have been an adventurous team, certainly not in the last 20 years. may have had individuals, just like any team, who had the x-factor, but how could you say that it meant the teams philosophy was to be adventurous?

          and if you class the Abs and crusaders as being conservative and lacking adventure, why do they consistantly win everything and often have the best try scoring rates, point scoring rates over the past 25 years? must be something in the water eh champ.

  • March 22nd 2012 @ 8:57am
    kingplaymaker said | March 22nd 2012 @ 8:57am | ! Report

    Justin in that case why are Australia number 2 in the world and Wales number 5, and why have Australia been above Wales for every year of the last four, and have Wales beaten Australia in that time or have Australia won every single encounter? And so who looks like the better coach on the basis of that?

    • March 22nd 2012 @ 9:30am
      johnny-boy said | March 22nd 2012 @ 9:30am | ! Report

      It’s because we’ve got great cattle.. just a useless coach

      • March 22nd 2012 @ 10:02am
        kingplaymaker said | March 22nd 2012 @ 10:02am | ! Report

        j-b when you say great cattle I assume you’re referring to Anthony Faiingaa, Dean Mumm and Pat Mccabe?

        • March 22nd 2012 @ 10:16am
          johnny-boy said | March 22nd 2012 @ 10:16am | ! Report

          Faiiinga is worth his weight in gold given the chance but yes I agree Deans does pick the wrong cattle some times – which is part of the reason we are not no.1.
          It’s funny tho isnt it, O’Neill and Eales have absolutely no faith whatsoever in Australian rugby and insist we must do everything the kiwi way, and yet there is one thing the kiwis will never do and that is put an Australian in charge of the All Blacks, especially when they play the Wallabies. O’Neill and Eales are just sooooo smart they can’t see the wool being pulled over their eyes. If only they would pull their heads out ……

          • March 22nd 2012 @ 10:52am
            kingplaymaker said | March 22nd 2012 @ 10:52am | ! Report

            j-b the Wallabies are not number one because the current Wallaby cattle is laughable in comparison to the current All Black cattle.

            • March 22nd 2012 @ 11:24am
              johnny-boy said | March 22nd 2012 @ 11:24am | ! Report

              You’re entitled to ewe opinion KPM ….

            • March 22nd 2012 @ 11:35am
              kingplaymaker said | March 22nd 2012 @ 11:35am | ! Report

              And you j-b, I’m the last to deny anyone their opinion (for the record I think Australia DOES have the cattle, but they are plundered by the NRL when teenagers i.e. Barnes, Elsom, Waerea-H, Rapana, Saffy, Tupuo, Tomane and many, many others, because there aren’t enough Super teams to offer them places, but that’s another story).

        • March 22nd 2012 @ 1:33pm
          Justin said | March 22nd 2012 @ 1:33pm | ! Report

          And who is in charge of picking the cattle?

          • March 22nd 2012 @ 1:39pm
            kingplaymaker said | March 22nd 2012 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

            At the important level, the ARU. They pick the young cattle and offer them contracts, teenagers in NSW and QLD. These cattle then grow into the big cattle the national coach can pick. However, as the ARU don’t pick enough good young cattle, mainly because they don’t have enough Super places in NSW and QLD to offer them, then the national coach, whoever he is, only has very limited grown-up cattle to pick.

    • March 22nd 2012 @ 11:20am
      Ben S said | March 22nd 2012 @ 11:20am | ! Report

      You’ve already been told the last time Wales beat Australia. Is that why you mention the number four? So disingenuous…

  • Columnist

    March 22nd 2012 @ 9:16am
    Brett McKay said | March 22nd 2012 @ 9:16am | ! Report

    Paul, I’ll echo Michael Lynagh’s thoughts completely, Wales are certainly capable of beating Australia this summer.

    Right at this point in time, Lydiate-Warburton-Falatau is comfortably in front of any backrow combination that Australia can come up with (I can’t even think what the best combo would be now), and let’s not even punish ourselves by thinking what a Welsh front row could do at scrum time.

    Playmakers and fullback aside, the Welsh three-quarter line works well as a unit and has a massive benefit from having played a lot of rugby together, even with Cuthbert replacing Shane Williams this year. By contrast, the Australian 11-14 line has had more combinations in the last 12 months than your average safe.

    Despite the difference in their rankings, I think the two teams are quite closely matched overall, and whoever emerges as the series winner in June will know that they’ve had to play superior rugby against a more than willing opponent. I’d sugest Wales will be harder to beat than South Africa this season. Simply, Wales think they can beat anyone, anywhere..

    • March 22nd 2012 @ 4:17pm
      jeznez said | March 22nd 2012 @ 4:17pm | ! Report

      Brett, make that an average hotel room safe

      • Columnist

        March 22nd 2012 @ 7:31pm
        Brett McKay said | March 22nd 2012 @ 7:31pm | ! Report

        Ha, thanks Jez, that’s actually what I thought I’d typed!!

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