Wallabies on front foot for opener
Wales haven’t beaten Australia since 2008, a run of 11 defeats, but there’s another even starker statistic that may have more bearing on this afternoon’s result at the Principality Stadium.
The last time Wales won the opening match of an autumn series was in 2002 – against Romania – and any chance of bringing that streak to an end appears severely hampered by the loss of some key players.
Australia arrive in Cardiff having won just three of ten matches this year but they are at least hitting the ground running while Wales’s November record underlines that they need time to get up to speed and there are several factors counting against them in their preparations.
Injuries to Sam Warburton and Taulupe Faletau have already left the back row heavily depleted, and the withdrawal of lock Alun-Wyn Jones from the squad this week is another major blow. Forward power is always a key weapon against the Wallabies so those absences are significant, while full-back Liam Williams also misses out through injury.
But the fit players in the Wales squad also often struggle to hit top gear straight away. Having been eased into Pro12 action slowly and with Cardiff and the Ospreys competing in the low-grade European Challenge Cup, many of the starting players have a lack of meaningful game time under their belts, certainly nothing to match the intensity that the Wallabies have faced.
On top of that, the team’s continuity from the Six Nations and summer tour will be hit by coach Warren Gatland’s unavailability due to his commitments as Lions coach. Rob Howley takes over having deputised before but there may still be a lack of cohesion in this opening test.
Seven defeats in ten this year doesn’t read well for Australia, but three of those came against New Zealand, and three against a rejuvenated England, world champions and Six Nations champions respectively.
They look set to continue with their open, attacking game, and while Wales might welcome that approach and look to fight fire with fire, they may not have the fluency to produce a killer touch.
Matches between these two have been tight in recent years – the last ten have been settled by a single-figure margin – but the Wallabies look to hold a significant edge today.
4pts 10-11 Boyles, Coral, Paddy Power