Rugby

Wallabies kick off grand slam hopes against Wales

2016-11-04 09:06

It has been so long since the Wallabies achieved a grand slam against the home nations that only two of the Australia side kicking off against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday was even born.

Captain Stephen Moore and backup loosie Scott Fardy were tiny tots when the 1984 side coached by Alan Jones and captained by Andrew Slack became the first and last Wallabies to beat England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland on the same tour.

Two more grand slam attempts since then tripped up early.

The chance in 2009 ended in the second match when Ireland scored a last-minute converted try to draw 20-20 in Dublin, and ended at the first hurdle in 2013, when England came from 13-6 behind at halftime to win 20-13.

What chance this time?

After making the Rugby World Cup final a year ago, the Wallabies are in transition but have been improving. The slam is a grand opportunity to redeem a pitiful year in which they have lost seven of 10 tests. That will be forgotten if they do the slam, just as nobody remembers the 1984 side losing four matches on tour.

Australia will take an 11-test, seven-year winning streak against Wales into a sold-out Millennium Stadium. Coach Michael Cheika dismissed the streak as irrelevant, but it gives the Australians confidence that they can prevail, and plants a seed of doubt in Welsh minds.

Wales has been close. Six of the last 11 matches were heart-breakers lost by five points or less, and Wales would have won their Rugby World Cup pool match last year with a pinch of composure and vision. But old habits die hard, and the Welsh have struggled again this year to keep their heads.

"One of the things we learned from the summer (in New Zealand), and the way the game is going in general, everyone needs to be comfortable on the ball," interim coach Rob Howley said.

"We have been doing a lot more skills in the week, and working on that under pressure. We need to have the confidence and the ability to do that work on the field on a Saturday, and not perhaps go into our shells."

Senior figures Sam Warburton, No. 8 Taulupe Faletau and lock Alun Wyn Jones were unavailable, but Wales still appear formidable with an impressive 802 caps.

They are led by prop Gethin Jenkins, with a safety net provided by fullback Leigh Halfpenny, back in a Wales jersey for the first time in 14 months. He'll also be the goalkicker, which will add to the spotlight on him given the history of the matchup.

David Pocock's timely availability made him an easy pick by Cheika to replace suspended blindside flanker Dean Mumm. Pocock's first start since breaking his hand against Argentina in mid-September puts him back in harness with Michael Hooper, and reuniting their celebrated openside partnership.

For now, the unsettled centers were Reece Hodge and Tevita Kuridrani, with Cheika unwilling to bring Israel Folau closer to the action, despite other viable fullback options.

After Wales, the Wallabies play Scotland, France, Ireland, and England on successive Saturdays.

This Saturday marks their 600th test. They beat Wales in their 300th in 1991 while winning their first Rugby World Cup.

___

Lineups:

Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, George North, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Ross Moriarty, Justin Tipuric, Dan Lydiate, Luke Chateris, Bradley Davies, Samson Lee, Ken Owens, Gethin Jenkins (captain). Reserves: Scott Baldwin, Nicky Smith, Tomas Francis, Cory Hill, James King, Gareth Davies, Sam Davies, Hallam Amos.

Australia: Israel Folau, Dane Haylett-Petty, Tevita Kuridrani, Reece Hodge, Henry Speight, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps; Lopeti Timani, Michael Hooper, David Pocock, Adam Coleman, Rory Arnold, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore (captain), Scott Sio. Reserves: Tolu Latu, James Slipper, Allan Alaalatoa, Rob Simmons, Scott Fardy, Nick Frisby, Quade Cooper, Sefa Naivalu.

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