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Everything you need to know as Wales prepare to take on Australia in a pivotal World Cup clash

24 Sep 2023 15 minute read
Wales’ Jac Morgan is tackled by Australia’s Reece Hodge during the Autumn International match last November. Photo David Davies PA Images

So, here we go. It’s Wales’ biggest game since the Grand Slam clash with France in 2021 and arguably even bigger than that given it’s on the world stage.

You can sense the palpable tension out there with so much resting on it.

Here then is everything you need to know about Sunday night’s huge Pool C clash with Australia in Lyon, as those nerves start jangling once again.

The permutations

Let’s cut to the chase and get straight into it. What exactly is the group situation and what are all the potential permutations?

At present, Wales are top of Pool C with ten points, having claimed the maximum haul from their victories over Fiji and Portugal.

The Fijians and the Australians are level on six points, with the south sea islanders in second place based on the head-to-head result between the two of them, having famously beaten the Wallabies 22-15 in Saint Etienne last Sunday.

Now, here’s the easy part to start with. Wales know any kind of win against the Aussies would guarantee them a spot in the quarter-finals regardless of results elsewhere.

It’s when you get other outcomes that things start to get a bit complicated.

If it’s a draw, then any win over Georgia in their final group match in Nantes on October 7 would be enough to take Warren Gatland’s team through to the last eight.

But if Eddie Jones’ boys come out on top, then bonus points – and potentially points difference – will become absolutely crucial.

Should it be 5-2 or 4-1 in favour of the Wallabies in terms of match points in Lyon, then Wales can still progress via a bonus point win over the Georgians.

If it’s 5-1 to the Aussies in match points, you could end up with a scenario where three teams finish on 16 points in the group.

It would then come down to points difference to separate Wales, Australia and Fiji. They currently stand at +26, +13 and +1 respectively, but the Fijians have games against Portugal and Georgia to come to boost their haul.

Then there’s the doomsday scenario.

Should Wales lose to the Wallabies and fail to pick up a bonus point, then it’s out of their hands. The worst case of all would be a 5-0 defeat. That would surely be end of sports as it would put the Aussies a point ahead going into their final group game against Portugal.

But a 4-0 defeat could be just as fateful as that could well see the two of them alone on 15 points in the final group table and then the Wallabies would go through on the head-to-head result.

There is one other convoluted contingency. If it’s a draw where only Wales score four tries to finish 3-2 ahead on match points, they would need just a losing bonus point against Georgia.

But, as I say, we are getting into fairly improbable mathematical minutiae there.

The bottom line is Wales simply have to take something out of tomorrow night’s game and badly need to avoid a four point deficit in favour of the Wallabies in match points.

It really would be a lot simpler and lot less stressful if they can just win the game!

There is also an argument that if they can’t beat this Aussie team, they probably don’t deserve to make the knock-out stages.

So, over to you Gats and Co!

Match details

After playing their first two matches in the far south of France – in Bordeaux and Nice – Wales have now travelled some 300 miles north to Lyon, the third largest city in the country. Located at the junction between the rivers Rhône and Saône to the north-west of the Alps, Lyon is noted for its cuisine, so Welsh fans will be in for some gastronomic delights, as well as some rugby ones, hopefully!

Once again, the venue is a football ground, with the OL Stadium being the home of Olympique Lyonnais. Opened in 2016, with a capacity of 59,000, it has staged a number of major rugby events, including European finals, Top 14 semi-finals and an international between a France XV and New Zealand.

Sunday’s all-important game between Wales and Australia will kick-off at 9pm local time (8pm here) when the temperature will be around 18 degrees, much cooler than has been the case for many of the matches in the tournament so far.

The stories behind the selections

There was much conjecture over what Gatland would do, but in the end he has gone for the side that started the group opener against Fiji. You can see the logic in that given Wales were the better side in that game for 65 minutes, showing a clinical edge in attack, while no-one really did enough in the stuttering win over Portugal to force their way in.

So it’s Ryan Elias who gets the nod at hooker. That’s no great surprise, but there will have been a few raised eyebrows at squad co-captain Dewi Lake being left out of the 23 altogether. Ultimately, those three lineouts that went awry in quick succession at the start of the second half against the Portuguese look to have cost Lake.

He offers a great deal in the loose with his carrying and work over the ball, but his throwing in remains something of an Achilles heel. The lineout is a real strength of the Aussies and they are likely to go after Wales there, particularly through the leaping of Nick Frost, so Gatland has gone for the accurate arrows of Elliot Dee as cover on the bench.

The Kiwi coach has admitted Lake is disappointed at his omission, but pointed to his lack of recent rugby due to injury, while adding he has always been a fan of Dee in terms of his lineout throwing and the energy he brings off the bench.

There had been some talk of a dual openside strategy with Tommy Reffell joining skipper Jac Morgan on the flank to target the breakdown, an area where the Wallabies really struggled against Fiji. But Reffell is not involved, which suggests he’s not fully recovered from the calf problem that forced his late withdrawal from the Portugal game.

Gatland may well have opted for Aaron Wainwright at No 6 anyway, as that does provide a better looking balance to the back row, as well as a genuine lineout option.

Wales’ Will Rowlands wins a lineout David Davies/PA Wire

The one other talking point had been who would partner Will Rowlands in the second row and the vote goes to the experienced Adam Beard, who wins his 50th cap, with young Dafydd Jenkins providing the bench back-up.

Jenkins is joined among the subs by Gareth Anscombe, who edges out Sam Costelow, with his ability to cover both fly-half and full-back potentially a factor, while prop Henry Thomas is fit to take his World Cup bow.

Tighthead Thomas caught the eye with his two scrum-steadying cameos during the warm-up programme and he could make a significant set-piece impact in the decisive final half hour.

As for the Wallabies, the big story has been the change at No 10. You always felt Eddie Jones was taking a gamble in selecting just one specialist fly-half in his 33-man squad, especially as it was a rookie in Carter Gordon, with no place for the likes of Quade Cooper, Bernard Foley, James O’Connor or Noah Lolesio.

It’s a risky policy which has come back to bite Jones, who has now withdrawn the 22-year-old Gordon from the fray after a testing time against Fiji.

He’s replaced at 10 by utility back Ben Donaldson. Now’s he only started one Test at fly-half for Australia – against Wales in Cardiff last November – and that didn’t go too well for him. He was taken off after 55 minutes with the Wallabies losing 34-13.

Crucially, skipper Will Skelton and prop Taniela Tupou – the Tongan Thor – are still sidelined by injury, which is a real double whammy given their carrying power and set-piece clout.

In Tupou’s absence, loosehead James Slipper continues to stand in at tighthead and the Ospreys’ Gareth Thomas will be hoping to get the same kind of joy against him in the scrum as Eroni Mawi did last weekend.

The return of scrum-half Tate McDermott from concussion is boost for the Wallabies, while Donaldson’s move to fly-half opens the way for Andrew Kellaway to come in at full-back and add to the attacking threat out wide.

And there certainly is potency behind with Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete and Mark Nawaqanitawase all dangerous individuals, so Wales will have to be on their mettle defensively.

It’s a tough one to call. In fact, a number of the bookies are unable to call it, literally hedging their bets, making it an evens encounter. This one is on a knife-edge.

But, while those nerves are indeed jangling again, you do feel Wales have it in them to win it, with their physicality, their aerial game, their cutting edge, their set-piece and the tactical control Dan Biggar will look to impose upon proceedings.

They know what they have to do, now let’s see if they can do it.

Wales: Liam Williams; Louis Rees-Zammit, George North, Nick Tompkins, Josh Adams; Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Gareth Thomas, Ryan Elias, Tomas Francis, Will Rowlands, Adam Beard, Aaron Wainwright, Taulupe Faletau, Jac Morgan (capt).

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Corey Domachowski, Henry Thomas, Dafydd Jenkins, Taine Basham, Tomos Williams, Gareth Anscombe, Rio Dyer.

Australia: Andrew Kellaway; Mark Nawaqanitawase, Jordan Petaia, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete; Ben Donaldson, Tate McDermott; Angus Bell, David Porecki (captain), James Slipper, Nick Frost, Richard Arnold, Rob Leota, Rob Valetini, Tom Hooper.
Reserves: Matt Faessler, Blake Schoupp, Pone Fa’amausili, Matt Philip, Fraser McReight, Nic White, Carter Gordon, Suliasi Vunivalu.

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)

Australia’s key men

Samu Kerevi
Four years ago, in Japan, Kerevi was involved in a controversial incident during the Wallabies’ World Cup group defeat to Wales when he was penalised for a forearm to the throat of Rhys Patchell, provoking much Aussie anger. The 17st inside centre is likely to be a pivotal figure once again with his powerful carrying and deceptive footwork.

Australia’s Tate McDermott (left) tackles Scotland’s Duhan van der Merwe during the Autumn International match at Murrayfield last October. Photo Robert Perry PA Images

Tate McDermott
The Reds scrum-half sat out the Fiji game after being concussed in the opener against Georgia and he was sorely missed. Now he’s back and that’s a significant boost for the Wallabies as he brings the tempo and quick service which enables them to make the most of their strike weapons behind.

Angus Bell
Carrying on the family tradition, with his father Mark having been capped at hooker by the Wallabies in the mid-90s. Loosehead prop Bell is technically sound at the scrum, while unusually athletic for a front-rower and very forceful with ball in hand. Pundits also praise his mental application, his attitude and resilience.

Marika Koroibete
He’s been dubbed the scariest winger in world rugby and he’s certainly a fearsome sight when he’s coming down your channel, either with or without the ball. Koroibete brings the abrasive edge you would expect from a former rugby league player, as demonstrated by some of his bone-shaking tackles, while he also possesses real pace and a lethal step. Good luck to Louis Rees-Zammit!

What are the coaches saying?

Warren Gatland (Wales)
“Australia are going to be desperate and there’s definitely desperation for us as well because a loss or no points and the group could potentially come down to points difference. That’s the last position we want to be in.

“When you’ve worked so hard and made as many sacrifices as the coaches and players have made in the past four months, that creates its own desperation.

“With the way we’ve trained this week, the boys have been really switched on and clear in what they want to do and how they want to play. I expect us to win. We’re going in with a lot of confidence.
“If you look at the recent record of games between Wales and Australia, there’s never much in it.

“They won’t lie down and roll over for us. Whichever way it goes, it’ll be close. It’ll go down the wire and there won’t be a lot in it. It’ll be one hell of a game. I’m delighted Wayne Barnes is reffing it. Having an experienced referee in control of the game is a real positive for us.

“We’ve come to realise what to expect from an Eddie Jones team. They tend to attack the short-side, there’ll be a lot of kicking and they’ll be fairly direct. I expect they’ll have Kerevi and Koroibete coming through those 10-12 channels.

“The aerial game will be key for both teams. There’s a lot of kicking in the game at the moment and that’s a reflection on the dominance of the defensive side. We’re confident with the work we’ve put in at lineout and mauls, we need to express ourselves and take them on in those two areas.

“There was an opportunity for players against Portugal. But we felt the team that went out against Fiji, for 65 minutes, did exactly what we asked for. I don’t think we got enough credit for the way we played against Fiji. We went 32-14 up.

“I was really pleased with the way we went about that game. It was about building on that and that starting XV gets an opportunity to go again.

“What I’m happy about at the moment is putting some pride back in that Welsh jersey. It doesn’t take long to lose it. I don’t think we had the respect of the rugby world in terms of performance and results.

“That’s been an objective of ours over the last few months. Players have made a lot of sacrifices. Players haven’t seen families and we’ve got births going on.

“We’re desperate to do well for this team, but also Wales as a country and to show we’re making forward as a team going forward.”

Eddie Jones (Australia)
“I’ve let Australian rugby down. I haven’t done the job I was brought in to do. I was brought in to turn it around, so I feel that responsibility.

“I can get down on my knees and do the Japanese thing if you want me to. I can’t apologise anymore, I’m sorry we haven’t had better results, but all I know is what we’re doing is right for Australian rugby.

“When you coach, you make a choice to put yourself in these positions. If I didn’t want to put myself in these positions, I could be teaching. I could have a nice life and get up every morning. The wife puts the packed lunch in the bag, I put a shirt and tie on, know I’m going to teach six periods, come home, wash the dog, clean the car, watch Channel 7 or ABC news and then get the packed lunch ready for the next day. I could have done that, but I made a choice to coach.

“I just love rugby, I love trying to get a young group of players together to get them to be the best version of themselves. That’s the allure. Then you get to see the game played well. It’s a buzz.

“We’ve got 10 times more people here than we normally do for an Australian press conference because people smell blood. That makes it even more exciting.

“The way the team’s prepared and come together, I’ve got no doubt we’ll win on Sunday. If we beat Wales, we’re alive and that’s all we’ve got to be.

“We were always going to get this game at some stage, it’s just come a little bit earlier than we thought it would. We’ve got an opportunity to show whether we can fight and grind out to get the result we need. I’m confident we can.”

Bookies Odds
Wales: 10/11
Australia win: 10/11
Draw: 20/1
Odds via William Hill

Remaining Pool C fixtures
Saturday, September 23: Georgia v Portugal (Toulouse, 1pm)
Sunday, September 24: Wales v Australia (Lyon, 8pm)
Saturday, September 30: Fiji v Georgia (Bordeaux, 4.45pm)
Sunday, October 1: Australia v Portugal (Saint-Etienne, 4.45pm)
Saturday, October 7: Wales v Georgia (Nantes, 2pm)
Sunday, October 8: Fiji v Portugal (Toulouse, 8pm)

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