The autumn internationals come to a close for Wales on Saturday as Australia arrive at the Principality Stadium searching for their first win in Europe this season, 5.30pm kick-off.
Wayne Pivac’s men only earned their first win of the campaign last weekend, putting aside a lacklustre hour to blitz away from 14-man Fiji in the final quarter last Sunday having fallen to New Zealand and South Africa in the weeks prior.
The Wallabies came into the autumn on the back of a strong Rugby Championship where they finished second having done the double over the Springboks, but slipped to a narrow 15-13 loss to Scotland in their first game before a comprehensive 32-15 win for England at Twickenham last weekend.
In order to break their losing streak this weekend they will also have to break Wales’ winning streak over them as the men in red won out 9-6 the last time the two sides met in Cardiff back in November 2018, before tries from Hadleigh Parkes and George North, and the boots of Dan Biggar and Rhys Patchell, secured a 29-25 win in the last World Cup pool stages.
They are without a number of key players though with Quade Cooper, Samu Kerevi and Marika Koroibete withdrawing from the squad before they left the southern hemisphere, and captain Michael Hooper picking up a foot injury against England last week.
He is one of four changes to the starting XV, replaced by Pete Samu, while James Slipper takes over the captaincy as he reverts to loosehead prop. Taniela Tupou is fit-again at tighthead prop and Tolu Latu completes a new front row at hooker. In the backs Filipo Daugunu is preferred to Tom Wright on the wing, while Lalakai Foketi could make his debut off the bench.
Australia: Kurtley Beale, Andrew Kellaway, Len Ikitau, Hunter Paisami, Filipo Daugunu, James O’Connor, Nic White; James Slipper, Tolu Latu, Taniela Tupou, Rory Arnold, Izack Rodda, Rob Leota, Pete Samu, Rob Valetini
Replacements: Folau Fainga’a, Angus Bell, Allan Alaalatoa, Will Skelton, Lachlan Swinton, Tate McDermott, Lalakai Foketi, Tom Wright
There are seven changes to the Wales side that took the field against Fiji last week as Tomas Francis and Josh Adams are both fit to play having been late withdrawals. Francis has passed the concussion return to play protocols, while Adams has overcome a minor calf strain.
The other alterations see Wyn Jones return at loosehead prop, Seb Davies replace the injured Will Rowlands in the second row, and Aaron Wainwright recover from a shoulder problem to return at number eight with Taine Basham reverting to the openside flank.
In the backs Tomos Williams gets the nod at scrum-half, while Willis Halaholo gets his first start of the autumn at inside centre with Nick Tompkins switching to the outside. On the bench there are call-ups for Elliot Dee as the replacement hooker, Ben Carter as the second row option, Gareth Davies and Rhys Priestland as the replacement half-backs and Johnny McNicholl as outside back cover.
Wales: Liam Williams, Louis Rees-Zammit, Nick Tompkins, Uilisi Halaholo, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Tomos Williams; Wyn Jones, Ryan Elias, Tomas Francis, Seb Davies, Adam Beard, Ellis Jenkins (c), Taine Basham, Aaron Wainwright
Replacements: Elliot Dee, Gareth Thomas, Dillon Lewis, Ben Carter, Christ Tshiunza, Gareth Davies, Rhys Priestland, Johnny McNicholl
Despite having our own hefty injury list, another crisp autumn evening at the Principality Stadium presents a real opportunity for Wales to claim a major scalp, even if Australia are missing big names too, and take a real confidence booster into the Six Nations.
The dual opensides of Jenkins and Basham with the return of the carrying presence of Wainwright gives real balance to the back row, while there’s a huge opportunity for Davies at lock to show what he brings to the Stephen Jones and Wayne Pivac attack, that could well spark into life with the exciting combination of Tompkins and Halaholo in midfield.
It also gives Biggar a chance to show he can get this attack running by, conversely, taking a back seat in the first receiver stakes and drifting wider as a second receiver to bring the back three into play. That all contends on winning the set piece first though, something Wales have struggled with throughout this autumn.