The Wallabies will be looking to make it two wins from two games when they take on Wales on Sunday afternoon, with the winner all but assuring themselves top spot in Pool D. Between both sides, they played the perfect 80-minute game in their opening matches, with Wales blowing out Georgia in the first half whilst Australia surged over Fiji in the second half.
The Wallabies will be buoyed by an impressive record against the Welsh, having lost one out of their last 14 games, along with holding victories over them at the last three World Cups. But you’re only as good as your last game, which resulted in a 9-6 victory for Wales in 2018, which has Warren Gatland’s men primed for a big showing.
The Wallabies got off to a slow start in 2019, losing 35-17 to the Springboks at Ellis Park in a sloppy performance that saw the side waste possession and opportunities. The side would bounce back over the next fortnight, defeating the Pumas 20-16 and producing their greatest performance since the last World Cup to dominate the All Blacks 47-26 at Optus Stadium.
Unfortunately, this dream turned into a nightmare, with the All Blacks dominating from the opening whistle the following week, shutting out the Wallabies 36-0 in a disappointing performance with the Bledisloe on the line. They would bounce back in their final warmup game, with a second-string side defeating Samoa 34-15.
The Wallabies got their World Cup campaign off to a shaky start, with a come-from-behind 39-21 victory against Fiji to open their Rugby World Cup campaign. They trailed for the majority of the match, before the injection of halfback Will Genia and a double to hooker Tolu Latu changed the contest, with the Wallabies scoring 27 points in the second half to secure victory.
Wales head into the World Cup in the midst of the third coming of their ‘golden age’, having run rough-shot throughout the international landscape across the last 12 months to briefly get to number one.
They arguably come into the tournament with one of the best form lines, having won their last nine games straight in 2018 over the likes of South Africa (x2), France and Australia. They continued this red-hot streak by winning the Grand Slam in 2019, before splitting the series against England 1-1 and losing to Ireland in their last warm-up game to officially relinquish the number one ranking.
Wales got off to a winning start in the World Cup as they overcame a spirited Georgia 43-14. Four tries in the opening half secured the bonus point victory at half time, with Georgia arguably getting the better of them in the second half despite having a man in the bin for ten minutes.
The Wallabies have switched up their back-line with a brand new set of halves in Will Genia and Bernard Foley. Genia relegates Nic White to the bench, whilst Cheika has brought in Foley for Lealiifano, who drops out of the side altogether. In other team news, Dane Haylett-Petty slots into fullback for Kurtley Beale, who goes to the bench, whilst Adam Ashley-Cooper replaces the suspended Reece Hodge on the wing.
Wales have named an unchanged starting line-up from the side that defeated Georgia on Monday. The only change comes on the bench, with Owen Watkin replacing Leigh Halfpenny. The side will be captained by Alan Wyn Jones, who will line for a record-breaking 130th cap for his country.
Dan Biggar v Dane Haylett Petty
I know this isn’t a direct match-up, but the success of DHP under the high ball will go a long way to determining who wins this match. Haylett-Petty comes into the side for Beale, who was shown up by Aaron Smith and the All Blacks during the Eden Park drubbing, with the Waratah struggle with the high ball and his box kicks. His selection at fullback is a clear ploy by Cheika to try and neutralise Biggar’s threat with the boot and he needs to step up and dominate the contest in the air. If he can’t, then the Welsh will be able to control the game and play it on their terms.
Front Row v Front Row
I know I haven’t singled out any particular players in the match-up, but I think the battle between the front-rows at set-piece time will be crucial to the match up. The Wallabies revival last week can be primarily put down to their set-piece, with their scrum and line-out firing on all cylinders. Each of Australia’s six tries in their opening game against Fiji originated from set-pieces, scoring five tries after beginning possession with a lineout and once after a scrum. This seemed to be the Welsh downfall during their lackadaisical second half, with the Georgians dominating at scrum-time, winning three scrum penalties during the second half.
For the first time in a long time, the Wallabies seem to have the upper hand both in the starting line-up and in the finishers with regards to scrummaging and they will need to use this to their advantage to secure victory. If the Wallabies can create havoc and earn a few penalties, then they need to dominate field possession and give their rolling maul a chance to barge over.
Numbers that matter (Thanks to Opta Sports)
13/14: Australia have won 13 of their last 14 Tests against Wales; that single defeat coming in their most recent meeting (November 2018) by a margin of just three points
72%: Australia’s winning percentage over Wales (W:21, L:10)
1987: The last time that Wales beat Australia at a World Cup
7: Australia has won their last seven Rugby World Cup pool games
5: Number of tries for George North against Australia, making him the third-highest European behind Shane Williams (6) and Serge Blanco (5)
10:Samu Kerevi beat 10 defenders in Australia’s win over Fiji, only three players have made more: David Campese (14 v Canada, 1995), Lote Tuqiri (12 v Scotland, 2003) and Drew Mitchell (11 v Uruguay, 2015).
I think the Wallabies have a slight edge over the Welsh. Whilst they were exposed by the expansive nature of the Fijians last week, I think this is a better stylistic match-up for the Aussies if they can make their mark at set-piece time. The inclusion of the hyphenated duo of Haylett-Petty and Ashley-Cooper gives the back three bigger bodies to help deal with the boot of Biggar and if they can restrict the amount of quick ball, then I think it will be an Australian victory.
Match Prediction: Wallabies by 4
Bold Prediction: Neither team scores over 25
Wallabies (15-1): Dane Haylett-Petty, Adam Ashley-Cooper, James O’Connor, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Isi Naisarani, Michael Hooper (c), David Pocock, Rory Arnold, Izack Rodda, Allan Ala’alatoa, Tolu Latu, Scott Sio
Reserves: Jordan Uelese, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Adam Coleman, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Nic White, Matt To’omua, Kurtley Beale
Wales (15-1): Liam Williams, George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies, Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Aaron Wainwright, Alun Wyn Jones (c), Jake Ball, Tom Francis, Ken Owens, Wyn Jones
Reserves: Elliot Dee, Nicky Smith, Dillon Lewis, Aaron Shingler, Ross Moriarty, Tomos Williams, Rhys Patchell, Owen Watkin.
Date: Sunday September 29
Venue: Tokyo Stadium, Chōfu
Kick-off: 5:45 pm AEST (4:45pm local time)
Where to Watch: Fox Sports 3 (Channel 503), RWC 4K (499) and Channel 10 (Free To Air)
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant Referee: Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)