Wales and Australia will do battle again today at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff. Not since November 2008 have we triumphed over the Wallabies, and there have been some really painful defeats in-between, least of all the three-test tour whitewash of 2012, as well as last year’s World Cup group match.
It’s definitely time to pull one back, and despite missing a couple of key figureheads, I really do feel today’s team has the right blend of personnel to potentially catch the Aussies knapping.
Alun Wyn Jones is absent from today’s game following the sad death of his father this week. Huge condolences to him and his family. Wyn Jones’ influence on the squad is immeasurable.
In his place today will be his Ospreys team-mate Bradley Davies, who always makes his physical presence known, and line-out extraordinaire Luke Charteris, who is sure to be a nuisance at the maul and the ruck. These two are highly experienced deputies to Wyn Jones who may just have all the attributes we need to combat Australia’s forward pack.
At number 8 we also see a start for Ross Moriarty. Having strung together some impressive, high octane performances on the New Zealand tour in June, Moriarty deservedly starts in the absence of the imperial Taulupe Faletau, who injured his ankle in his first game for new club Bath. Faletau will definitely play a part in the test series when he returns to fitness later this month, but this is a brilliant chance to see Moriarty at his aggressive best against David Pocock, one of the giants of the game, and one of the Southern Hemisphere’s greatest players. This promises to be one hell of a battle.
It’s also superb to see Leigh Halfpenny starting at full back after a lengthy spell on the side-lines. Halfpenny suffered a serious injury in the World Cup warm-up against Italy in September 2015, and I think all 3.9 million people in Wales sighed in desperation as he was stretchered from the field that day. That said, there is no denying Liam Williams has been absolutely magnificent in Halfpenny’s absence, grasping his opportunity with both hands. In fact, there’s every chance Williams would retain the 15 jersey for this game if both player we fully fit, although I also feel Halfpenny would then have been afforded a starting berth on the wing, such is his skill set and dedication in defence.
Halfpenny lines up opposite the hugely talented Israel Folau, himself a player of huge talent that lights up the international stage, and is a real attacking weapon for Australia.
The Wales bench has a nice balance to it today, with Sam Davies and Cory Hill likely to win their first Wales caps as replacements after impressive displays for their regional teams this season. Davies in particular could turn this game on its head, and may have even slipped under the Wallabies radar to an extent.
This is going to be a cracking game! Come on Wales!