Wales and Wallabies need win in Cardiff to salve hurt
CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Beat Australia on Saturday and Wayne Pivac will deem Wales’ autumn rugby series a success.
In order, New Zealand mastered the Welsh 54-16, South Africa edged them 23-18, and they were fortunate to beat Fiji 38-23.
This weekend they go after a first hat trick against the Wallabies since 1975.
The Six Nations holder started the campaign without Lions such as George North, Justin Tipuric, Leigh Halfpenny and Josh Navidi. Then during the series they lost more Lions including captain Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Taulupe Faletau and Ross Moriarty.
Other Lions have struggled to get on the field. Liam Williams finally came right following an appendectomy, prop Wyn Jones answered a wake-up call to get fit after being dropped, and Josh Adams overcame a calf issue.
From 15 to 20 front-line players have been unavailable for each game but coach Pivac has kept calm and carried on. He has gone through 39 players, three captains, and is scraping the bottom of the tank in some positions. At the same time, the squad has never been so deep.
Asked to rate the campaign, Pivac was upbeat.
“We’ve lost senior guys which would hurt any side. But guys have come in and done well.
“The forward pack are probably the most damaged in terms of injuries but they’ve shown up well against the (South Africa) world champions in difficult conditions. I think a win would make it successful.”
He was still sweating on injuries, though, even after naming the lineup on Thursday. Adams and tighthead prop Tomas Francis were late withdrawals before the Fiji game last Sunday and were subject to late tests to play the Wallabies.
If Adams’ calf issue wasn’t resolved in time, he could be replaced a lot easier than Francis.
Pivac said they had a Plan B for Francis if he joins the list of unavailable tightheads including Samson Lee, WillGriff John and Leon Brown. Dillon Lewis could be promoted from the reserves after playing Fiji for 75 minutes on two bad feet, and an unnamed alternative brought in. They would also consider moving across Wyn Jones from loosehead but Pivac said they needed his experience to counter Australia tighthead Taniela Tupou.
Tupou and Australia’s other tighthead, Allan Alaalatoa, have been rushed back into the team after concussions against Scotland forced them to miss the 32-15 loss to England last weekend. Their return has allowed James Slipper to move back to loosehead where he’s more comfortable.
Australia has also been dealing with its own injuries, its main loss being captain Michael Hooper to a foot sprain.
The Wallabies came to Britain riding a five-match winning streak, but have been brought to earth by defeats to Scotland and England. Much of the blame is self-inflicted: They conceded 14 penalties vs. Scotland and 18 vs. England, many unnecessarily.
More of the same in Cardiff will be gleefully accepted by an expert goalkicker such as Dan Biggar. Biggar came off the bench to kick the winning penalty in 2018, and launched Wales to their pool win at the 2019 Rugby World Cup with a dropped goal and try-saving tackle.
“If we let guys like Dan Biggar into the game, with his kicking, through penalties and ill discipline,” Wallabies back Andrew Kellaway warned, “we’re going to be on the back foot.”
Wales: Liam Williams, Louis Rees-Zammit, Nick Tompkins, Uilisi Halaholo, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Tomos Williams; Aaron Wainwright, Taine Basham, Ellis Jenkins (captain), Seb Davies, Adam Beard, Tomas Francis, Ryan Elias, Wyn Jones. Reserves: Elliot Dee, Gareth Thomas, Dillon Lewis, Ben Carter, Christ Tshiunza, Gareth Davies, Rhys Priestland, Johnny McNicholl.
Australia: Kurtley Beale, Andrew Kellaway, Len Ikitau, Hunter Paisami, Filipo Daugunu, James O’Connor, Nic White; Rob Valetini, Pete Samu, Rob Leota, Izack Rodda, Rory Arnold, Taniela Tupou, Tolu Latu, James Slipper (captain). Reserves: Folau Fainga’a, Angus Bell, Allan Alaalatoa, Will Skelton, Lachlan Swinton, Tate McDermott, Lalakai Foketi, Tom Wright.
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