Ain’t no friendly, Wales warn Wallabies
Wales coach Warren Gatland has dismissed his side’s clash with World Cup rivals Australia as irrelevant to the 2015 tournament, noting last week’s Test against Tonga was more important.
But Gatland warned Saturday night’s encounter at Millennium Stadium would be far more intense than previous annual November meetings in Cardiff, which the hosts treated more like “friendlies”.
The Kiwi mentor on Tuesday unveiled a powerful Welsh starting team, boasting 10 British and Irish Lions, including fit-again winger Alex Cuthbert.
The Six Nations champions provided the backbone to Gatland’s victorious Lions squad in the Australian winter and now they are determined to end their eight-Test losing streak against the Wallabies.
The two sides have been drawn with host nation England in the pool of death at the 2015 World Cup, and both Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie and Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards believes this weekend’s result will provide an important psychological edge.
But not Gatland.
“I don’t think it is relevant at all,” he said. “There is a lot of water to pass under the bridge before that.
“Last week (Tonga) was probably more important than this week for the World Cup in terms of being able to develop a bit of experience and depth into the rest of the squad and being able to win.
Wales last beat Australia in 2008, also their last success against a southern hemisphere heavyweight.
“People have got to be aware that probably in the past we’ve used (the November internationals) as a preparation for the Six Nations because that’s our bread and butter – these are friendlies,” Gatland said.
“Our focus has changed a little bit for this autumn.”
Wales are missing star centres Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies as well as Lions scrum anchor Adam Jones but remain the most experienced and potent side Australia have faced on their five-match European tour.
Gatland says the return of Cuthbert, who scored two tries in this year’s 30-3 Six Nations demolition of England, provides a “massive” boost as he joins George North and Leigh Halfpenny in a classy back-three unit.
Their back-row strength is highlighted by Justin Tipuric being left on the bench, with skipper Sam Warburton, Dan Lydiate and Toby Faletau to start.
Dan Biggar has won a tight call ahead of Rhys Priestland at five-eighth while Gatland has had to gamble on loose forward Ryan Jones as his lock cover with Luke Charteris and Bradley Davies unavailable.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, Owen Williams, Scott Williams, George North, Dan Biggar, Mike Phillips; Toby Faletau, Sam Warburton (capt), Dan Lydiate, Ian Evans, Alun Wyn Jones, Rhodri Jones, Richard Hibbard, Gethin Jenkins. Res: Ken Owens, Ryan Bevington, Samson Lee, Ryan Jones, Justin Tipuric, Rhodri Williams, Rhys Priestland, Liam Williams.