Australia in terrific form as wounded Welsh hope sheer determination is enough
Not many expected Australia and Wales to be clashing in their final Pool A fixture knowing qualification to the quarter-finals was already secured. The two nations joined forces to dump hosts England out with a match to spare and now meet to decide who takes top spot in the ‘Pool of Death’.
Despite their last eight places being assured, neither side will be taking a backwards step on Saturday knowing finishing first is paramount to avoid two of the biggest hitters in world rugby. The runners-up face the prospect of a quarter-final tie against South Africa, followed by a likely semi-final against New Zealand.
Topping the tree would see a manageable meeting with either Scotland, Japan or Samoa before semi-final rugby against either Argentina, France or Ireland. Therefore, the carrot to win this Twickenham contest should ensure we’re in for another thrilling Rugby World Cup encounter.
Australia start as understandable favourites and have won this fixture in each of the last 10 renewals. However, the fixtures have traditionally been very tight with the Wallabies winning margin ranging from two to five points in their last five games.
Six of those victories did come in Wales, mind. And it’s worth noting the South Hemisphere side have scored 20+ points in all bar one of those matches – Wales have followed suit on only three occasions.
Michael Cheika’s men made a quiet start to their campaign. They were unable to pick up the bonus point against Fiji but recorded a regulation five-pointer against Uruguay before dispatching England 33-13 in an impressive display. The Green and Gold have lost Michael Hooper to suspension but Sean McMahon’s selection will make the Wallabies just as dangerous at the breakdown.
Mario Ledesma’s appointment to tighten up the Australian scrum has certainly aided their chances and resulted in five scrum penalties against England last time out. With a strong set-piece, world class strike-runners, playmakers at 10 and 12 and a ferocity for winning turnover ball, the Wallabies will take some beating.
Wales’ win over the English arguably owed more to the hosts’ incompetence than Dragons excellence but the manner in which Warren Gatland’s charges stuck to the task and turned around a deficit that stood at 10 points at one stage was highly impressive
Gatland’s group overcame Fiji 23-13 shortly after that Twickenham victory but have suffered badly in the injury stakes, losing five of their original 31. Gatland’s opted to field two openside flankers, with Justin Tipuric joining captain Sam Warburton in their back row to hopefully match the Wallabies at the breakdown. It’s that battle that looks likely to prove decisive for either side.
Elsewhere, George North will start at outside centre, Gareth Anscombe comes in at fullback for his first international start whilst three of the front five are rotated as the Dragons bid to extend their run of nine wins from their past 10 matches.
The line has been set at seven points for this clash and with underdogs covering the handicap in 20/32 Rugby World Cup 2015 matches, siding with Wales +7 might appeal to most at 10/11. As well as the tight nature of matches at this tournament, only one of the Wallabies last eight wins over Wales would have beaten the current line.
It’s difficult to bet against Australia. Cheika’s transformed the team since taking charge last autumn and their return of seven wins from eight in 2015, including beating the All Blacks, suggests they’re serious candidates to go the distance.
Their triumph over England was one of Australian Rugby’s most rousing moments and they should continue their winning streak on Saturday. Taking the Wallabies to win by 1-10 points at 33/20 looks a far more attractive proposition than any handicap play with a dogged Welsh side available to keep the score respectable.
Odds are provided at time of writing, please check your betslip to confirm they have not changed before betting.