Wallabies won't be playing by numbers in Cardiff

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Nearly half the Welsh bench to play Australia will be first-timers on Saturday, but Wallabies coach Michael Cheika says that could play in the home side's favour.

Both Australia and Wales come into the game with a sprinkling of the next generation as the World Cup cycle marches on, but the home side looks especially new, with a spate of injuries and personnel changes bringing in a new-look outfit.

It’s on the bench where the contrast is most stark -  the Welsh reserves have just 37 Tests combined, compared to Australia’s 293.

Even taking out Stephen Moore’s 126 Tests, the Wallabies still have 167 caps on the pine, including two 50-Test players in Nick Phipps (59) and Ben McCalman (50).

With 11 of their past 12 clashes decided by single figures, bench players have proven critical in Tests between the two countries and it seems likely that will prove the case again on Saturday.

Cap numbers, though, didn’t necessarily spell an advantage for the Wallabies in Cheika’s view.

“I think the players they've picked, I've seen them playing in their different leagues, they're quality players,” he said.

“I feel that debutants give you a certain power, (they give you) energy and enthusiasm and hunger and they can change a side.

“I've seen that first hand with our own guys.”

Though Super Rugby is often considered the pre-eminent club competition in rugby, dominated by players from three of the strongest Test nations historically, Cheika said the jump to Test footy was no easier on either side of the world.

“They're (Pro14 players) playing with guys who are playing international rugby,” he said.

“It's just footy at the end of the day, you've just got to play really good when you're playing internationals.

“There's a lot of quality over here and I don't see any difference in the step up from there to international as opposed to Super Rugby and our internationals.”

 Bernard Foley is back in action. Photo: Getty ImagesWallabies flyhalf Bernard Foley praised Australia's group of debutants, which hit 25 since the Rugby World Cup when Matt Philip came on in Japan.

"I think it was probably well-documented at how there was a bit of a turnover in the squad in the start of this Test season and I think the guys who have come in have really taken to the work," he said.

"The appetite for hard work in Test match rugby has been exceptional. I don’t think we’re by any means close to a finished picture but I think what the squad is doing is building in certain positions in experience and knowledge and what it takes to play Test match rugby."

The playmaking spot is one where Foley has seen depth grow first-hand, with Reece Hodge making his no. 10 debut in Japan, and proving he's more than just a fallback option.

"He's definitely a contender for that spot," he said.

"I thought he showed great composure in how he managed that side.

"For a guy who is probably more known for his ball running, he was able to distribute and play the guys around him and play guys into space and (go) through those lines."

One area Wales leads the way in experience is in the second row, with captain and Test centurion Alun Wyn Jones going head-to-head with second-year Wallabies lock Adam Coleman.

Coleman had plenty of praise for his counterpart earlier this week and Cheika said the 26-year-old would relish the contest, in an unfamiliar arena.

The pair have never gone head-to-head, with Wyn Jones missing last year’s clash due to his father’s death.

“Wyn Jones has been an outstanding talisman for Wales and the Lions and his club side,” Cheika said.

“(For) Adam this will be his second Northern tour, last year he went home injured, so he's not played a lot of games over here and he's going to get a real taste of the action when he plays against a guy with the quality of Wyn Jones.

“(That’s) both in the dark arts of forward play and in the more technical stuff as well, because with the experience that Wyn Jones has, he's certainly going to be up for a battle, which Adam will be up for.

“That's the good thing, he loves a challenge.”

Australia takes on Wales on Saturday November 11, kicking off at 5:15pm local, Sunday 4:15am AEDT, LIVE on beIn Sports and SBS.