PREVIEW: Wales host Australia in the two teams’ final rugby Test of the year on Saturday with both badly in need of a win.
With less than a year to the World Cup Wales Wayne coach Pivac and Australia handler Dave Rennie would hope the quadrennial showpiece is too close for them to be removed.
However, the pressure on both is huge after a terrible set of results this year – which include historic defeats for the Wallabies at the hands of Italy and the Welsh coming off a loss to Georgia.
Pivac’s credit in the bank due to the 2021 Six Nations title is used up with eight defeats in 11 Tests this year.
The 60-year-old New Zealander – whose overall record is 19 defeats in 33 Tests since taking over from compatriot Warren Gatland following the 2019 World Cup – says his own future must not intrude on the team’s focus for Saturday.
“Other people make those decisions,” said Pivac on Thursday.
“What we do internally is make sure we prepare the best we can. I can’t get sidetracked by those sort of things.”
Rennie, 58, unlike his fellow New Zealander, has no such laurels as a continental title to rest on.
Defeat for the Wallabies would be their 10th in 14 matches in 2022, a record that would consign them to their worst calendar year since 1958.
However, Rennie’s side could just as easily have been looking at rounding off their unbeaten tour – an opening win over the Scots was followed by single-point defeats both by Six Nations champions France and Italy.
Last Saturday they gave Ireland, the team ranked number one in the world, a heck of a tussle to lose 13-10.
“We can take belief out of the last few weeks, particularly the performances in Dublin and Paris against really strong sides, but we need to be better,” said Rennie on Thursday.
“If we win a couple of key moments, we win a couple of Tests at strong venues.”
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) November 24, 2022
Young Wallaby wings to take flight?
Jordan Petaia and Mark Nawaqanitawase are two of the few positives the Wallabies can take out of the tour. Both are 22 and set to start on the wings for the Australians on Saturday they took the eye against Ireland.
Petaia has far more experience – Saturday will be his 25th Test compared to his team-mate’s third – but they are just the type of young player Rennie hopes will make a potent blend with the veterans come next September’s World Cup.
Nawaqanitawase describes himself as “chilled” and is “fortunate to have long arms” but his teammates acknowledge he and Petaia – who scored an excellent try against the Irish – provide potent weapons for them.
“I think it just gives us two big wings who are willing to carry and then if the ball goes up, getting up for the ball,” said Wallabies center Len Ikitau.
Welsh talisman Halfpenny returns
Pivac’s cause has not been helped by injuries to key players for the Autumn Nations Series Tests but one of them returns for the Wallabies match – talismanic fullback Leigh Halfpenny.
Fingers, though, will be crossed that the 33-year-old comes through unscathed in what is his first Test since he suffered a serious knee injury 15 months ago.
His coach at Scarlets, Dwayne Peel, says he still possesses the qualities that have made him indispensable to his country for over a decade.
“He’s quiet but he has massive experience under his belt,” said Peel.
“He’s probably made a living out of anticipating kick space and reading a 10’s body language. He’s been excellent at that throughout his career.”
The man in Halfpenny’s sights on Saturday is Ben Donaldson – making his first Test start at flyhalf – which could make it a demanding afternoon for the young Wallaby.
Players to watch:
For Wales: Taulupe Faletau returns to the Wales XV at No.8 and will make his 100th Test appearance. The loose forward usually adds a lot of physicality to the pack. Alun Wyn Jones is also named in the starting line-up – which adds loads of experience to the team. Another big talking point is the return of Leigh Halfpenny to the starting XV. Halfpenny, named at fullback, makes his first start for Wales since the middle of 2021 having featured as a replacement last weekend. Joe Hawkins will win his first international cap, coming in at inside center for Owen Watkin who has been ruled out of the match due to a knee injury.
For Australia: With regular flyhalf Bernard Foley unavailable as the Test falls outside the international window, Dave Rennie made a big call as he named Ben Donaldson at flyhalf, with Noah Lolesio relegated to the bench for the Millennium Stadium clash. The young Donaldson is accompanied by Waratahs teammate Jack Gordon as the halfback combo. Reece Hodge is another eye-raising selection at centre, however, his boot will be another attacking option for Australia. In the pack, Allan Alaalatoa, Folau Fainga’a and James Slipper (captain) will be desperate to put in a good show and dominate the scrums.
Head to head
@Rugby365com: Wales by three points
Wales 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 George North, 12 Joe Hawkins, 11 Rio Dyer, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric (captain), 6 Jac Morgan, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Gareth Thomas.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Ben Carter, 20 Josh Macleod, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Josh Adams.
Australia: 15 Tom Wright, 14 Jordan Petaia, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 10 Ben Donaldson, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Langi Gleeson, 7 Fraser McReight, 6 Jed Holloway, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Nick Frost, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper (captain).
Replacements: 16 Lachlan Lonergan, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Ned Hanigan, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Noah Lolesio, 23 Jock Campbell.
At your place: Saturday, November 26
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 15.15 (15.15 GMT; 02.15 AEDT Sunday, November 27)
Expected weather: Heavy rain with a fresh breeze. High of 13°C and low of 10°C
Referees: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant referees: Luke Pearce (England), Chris Busby (Ireland)
TMO: Joy Neville (Ireland)