Wales had delayed their announcement by 48 hours due to injury concerns, yet looking at the finalised team sheet, it makes surprisingly good reading.
The pack, bar some reservations at tight head, is on paper more than good enough to be competitive. It has the tackling giant in Luke Charteris as well as a supremely athletic backrow which will hope to match the likes of Australia’s Pocock and Higginbotham. As ever in rugby it is the breakdown that will be key and Australia are past masters at bossing it.
Stop Australia gaining quick ball, especially stop their offloading, and Wales will be able to start to press home their own advantages.
Wales will be hoping Jamie Roberts will last longer than he has in two out of the three games so far this Autumn, although it is a wonder they haven’t stuck with Scott Williams in the centre alongside Davies, as in the second half against the All Blacks they were starting to look very good.
Rhys Priestland is set for another stint in the fly half shirt, and if the forwards provide him and Mike Phillips with much needed clean ball, he has the right attributes to bring the backline into the game. There were signs of this starting to work in the latter stages of the match against New Zealand and Wales will be hoping they can pick up where they left off.
Liam Williams is rewarded with another start on the wing after an eye catching defensive performance last week. Australia will seek to test him under the high ball and the Scarlets full back will be hoping he puts in an improved performance with this aspect of his play. The tenacity he brings to the pitch has been missing in recent months within the Welsh side and they will be looking to build on this to put pressure on the Australian backline.
With players like Barnes, Beale and Mitchell in the backline, Australia are by no means short of danger men. Give them a sniff of front foot ball and they will punish you, so an improved defensive display from Wales is essential.
Ever an Achilles heel within the Australian side, the pack they are fielding does still have all the attributes to cause sides trouble, although they struggled somewhat in a narrow 22-19 victory over Italy last week.
Wales will be ruing the loss of loose head Paul James back to Bath, and their injuries at tight head which means they no longer have an advantage in the front row. Young props Bevington and Lee are on the bench, yet it will be Jenkins and Andrews that will have to be relied upon to provide a strong platform for Wales to build from.
Both lineouts look strong, with Shingler and Charteris being key players for Wales. Territory and possession secured means nothing however if the teams aren’t able to do anything with it. Wales have been rather toothless in attack this Autumn series, their crash ball tactic being easily defended. Howley will have to earn his money in helping to create more inventive back line moves, if indeed Gatland at the helm allows much of a deviation from Wales’ stagnating game plan.
The return of the injured Pocock is a huge boost for the visiting side, and with Hooper on the bench they have key breakdown men to call on throughout the match. The match up with Warburton will be important, and if Tipuric gets on the pitch he has the talent and form to match them.
Looking at the teams on a whole, it is Australia who has more players in form, and they are side playing with the confidence of winning. Wales, although improved against New Zealand, are still looking hesitant and passive in attack.
On paper, these teams seem relatively evenly matched. On form, Australia look good for the win.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, Liam Williams; Rhys Priestland, Mike Phillips; Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees, Scott Andrews, Ian Evans, Luke Charteris, Aaron Shingler, Sam Warburton (capt), Toby Faletau.
Replacements: Ken Owens, Ryan Bevington, Samson Lee, Ryan Jones, Justin Tipuric, Tavis Knoyle, Dan Biggar, Scott Williams.
Australia: Berrick Barnes, Nick Cummins, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Ben Tapuai, Drew Mitchell, Kurtley Beale, Nick Phipps, Wycliff Palu, David Pocock, Scott Higginbotham, Nathan Sharpe (captain), Kane Douglas, Ben Alexander, Tatafu Polota Nau, Benn Robinson.
Replacements: Stephen Moore, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Dave Dennis, Michael Hooper, Brendan McKibbin, Mike Harris, Digby Ioane.