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Talking points as Wales bid to beat Australia Down Under for first time in 55 years

05 Jul 2024 4 minute read
Wales players celebrate following victory in the Rugby World Cup 2023, Pool C match against Australia last year. Photo Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Andrew Baldock

Wales kick off their Australia tour on Saturday when they tackle the Wallabies in Sydney.

Warren Gatland’s team face two Tests followed by an appointment with Queensland Reds as they look to rediscover a winning formula that has deserted them since the 2023 World Cup.

Wales have gone under Down Under

It is 55 years since Wales beat the Wallabies on Australian soil. That 19-16 success at Sydney Cricket Ground in 1969 was secured by a Wales team featuring players like JPR Williams, John Dawes, Barry John and Gareth Edwards, but it has been one-way traffic during 11 subsequent meetings.

Wales lost the lot, including sizeable defeats such as 63-6 (1991), 42-3 (1996) and 31-0 (2007), although the last time they visited in 2012 they went down by a combined margin of just three points across the second and third Tests.

Both nations are in rebuilding mode during the early stages of a four-year World Cup cycle, yet history shows how tough a task Wales face.

Gatland welcomes reinforcements

Wales’ opening summer international saw them lose 41-13 against South Africa at Twickenham, but as that game fell outside World Rugby’s fixture schedule window it meant that England-based players Nick Tompkins, Josh Hathaway, Dillon Lewis, Archie Griffin, Dafydd Jenkins, Christ Tshiunza and Tommy Reffell were unavailable for selection.

Gatland can now call on their services again, though, as Wales target a first Test match victory for nine months. Jenkins and Reffell, especially, are cornerstones of the head coach’s pack, and they will have huge roles to play in Sydney, while it will be fascinating to see how uncapped Gloucester back Josh Hathaway fares at the top level.

Life after Eddie Jones

Australia slumped to a World Cup low at the 2023 tournament in France, making a pool stage exit for the first time before head coach Eddie Jones’ reign ended just 10 months into a five-year contract.

The former England boss won only two of his nine games in charge, with Wales among those to pile on the misery through a 40-6 World Cup victory in Lyon.

Australian rugby chiefs then turned to former Ireland boss Joe Schmidt, who masterminded three Six Nations title triumphs and victories over New Zealand during a success-laden time at the helm, and he is now poised for a first game as Wallabies head coach amid considerable expectation that he can turn things around.

Ben Thomas moves to number 10

It is safe to say that Wales’ number 10 shirt is up for grabs. Since Gatland returned for a second stint as Wales head coach ahead of the 2023 Six Nations, Cardiff prospect Thomas will become his sixth different starting fly-half.

Dan Biggar has now retired from Test rugby, while the experienced Gareth Anscombe suffered another injury setback during the World Cup. Owen Williams, Sam Costelow and Ioan Lloyd have also had chances of varying degrees, and attention now turns to Thomas, who regularly features for Cardiff as a centre.

He returns to Test rugby three years after his last Wales appearance, and the stage is his to make a statement.

Aaron Wainwright hits half-century

Number eight Wainwright will become the latest member of Wales’ 50-cap club when he runs out in Sydney on Saturday, and there can be little doubt about the value he brings to Gatland’s team.

Consistency is his trademark, and he has effortlessly filled a position that Taulupe Faletau made his own for many seasons, featuring in two thirds of the Tests Wales have played since he made his debut against Argentina in San Juan six years ago.

Wainwright’s experience and reliability will be crucial if Wales are to make an impact Down Under, with his work alongside back-row colleagues Reffell and Taine Plumtree being a vital cog in the machinery.

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