Autumn Internationals Preview: Wales
Ok, so the Lions is now nothing but a distant memory, seasons are in full flow, and the 6 Nations is looming large in the background. But before we get there, we’ve got the Autumn Internationals.
Great for blooding new players, phasing out oldies, and *ahem* confirming eligibility, the November Internationals are always entertaining to watch.
There are some cracking games lined up this year and we’re going to be here throughout. In the build-up we’ll previewing each team’s upcoming games.
We’ve already covered the Scots and next up is Wales!
The Welsh autumn squad
In a week where Nigel Owens presided over a joint-international training session, the biggest news out of the Wales camp is the call to play with both Dan Biggar and Owen Williams. It’s a change that I’m sure the majority of Welsh fans will applaud after they saw the same tactic used to great effect during the summer’s Lions Tour. In New Zealand the dual threat of Sexton and Farrell was a constant headache for the All Blacks.
The logic is simple, you can utilise the dual outhalf approach to rapidly spread the play. It also allows you to split the field at the break down or set piece, giving two avenues of attack. Not to mention the benefit of having an accomplished place kicker at 12. It is, in short, a bit of a nightmare to deal with.
Now, an obvious retort to this is that all 12s should have this ability to be accomplished playmakers already, and maybe there is a case for that.
The reality is, for Wales, their tactics have been quite different. Warrenball had been alive and kicking so this is certainly a positive step for Welsh rugby. The difference between, say, Jamie Roberts and Owen Williams, is obvious. The more physical approach is sacrificed for a playmaking option.
The same, of course, is true in defence. There is a clear physical and tackling weakness now set in the Welsh backline. No disrespect to Williams, but he has been known to miss a tackle or two. This is international rugby and any player should be capable of making his hit and stepping-up defensively, but question marks remain.
It's hard not to think that this will be a target area for teams. At least in the early stages. With that in mind, let’s take a look at Wales’s first game, Australia.
Wales v Australia
The Wallabies, you have to assume will have a pop at the 10-12 channel in the early stages. As expected, they’ve named the 104kg Samu Kerevi alongside Kuridrani as the starting centre pairing for Saturday’s game. This duo, is quite simply, physically intimidating. Kerevi, having impressed in the trouncing of Japan last weekend keeps his place in the squad and you have to think he’s got Williams firmly in his sights.
This Aussie team are growing in confidence and the performances are starting to reflect that. Off the back of a win over New Zealand they ran over a hapless Japanese team last time out.
Wales have got one hell of a game on their hands.
Welsh Autumn History
History has not been kind to Welsh autumn rugby, in the opening weekend at least. It’s well documented and no Welsh fan will need reminding, but it’s 15 years –10 games – since Wales have opened a November series with a win. For an elite international side that is a run that simply cannot be allowed to continue.
And they do have a genuine chance to end it this weekend.
We discussed above the risk in starting Williams as a second playmaker but it is a necessary and welcome risk. Owen Williams is a genuine threat and is a player on form. But aside from this, Wales boast an enviable collection of genuine quality littered throughout the squad. In, Ken Owens and Jake Ball they possess excellent ball carries willing to put in the gritty work necessary to win at international level. Ball in particular. Expect to see him hitting everything that moves, not just on Saturday but throughout the series. It also goes without saying we can expect a performance from the truly world class Faletau.
The lethal Liam Williams and Jonathan Davies will be on close watch following a fantastic Lions tour while Leigh Halfpenny will be raring to stake a claim in the “world class player” debate having endured a difficult summer.
This is a game that has the potential to be an absolute cracker, but it’s just the beginning of a jam-packed Autumn Series for Wales.
Wales v Georgia
Georgia awaits straight after the Australia game. Now, this will be interesting. As anyone who’s ever watched a Georgia game can tell you – expect a physical encounter. Georgia pride themselves on their set piece performance. Look at the French leagues for example, there are currently close to 50 Georgian props plying their trade in French rugby, with a decent chunk of that coming in the Top14.
Considering they play Wales post Wallabies and pre All Blacks, this makes for a most intriguing game. You have to think that Wales drop players for this one. Being the only team to embark on a 4-game series this year, they have to rotate squads.
It’s a fine line, drop players for NZ and South Africa and you risk a surprise loss to Georgia, potentially making it two losses on the bounce after Australia. Seeing as a loss against NZ is likely (no shame in it) Wales could realistically be heading into the last game against South Africa with just one or even no wins under their belts.
Ok, scaremongering aside, it’s fully expected that this Wales side will come away from Georgia with a win, with a reduced squad or not but the key here is damage control, reduce injuries and fatigue. Because we know the next one is the big one.
There’s simply no denying that New Zealand remain the team to beat in world rugby. Say what you will about their recent form, everyone knows they are nothing short of phenomenal on their day.
Wales v New Zealand
A quick look over their squad announced to play France is enough to worry any international coach. Kieran Read, Dane Coles, Sam Whitelock, Aaron Smith, Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty, Damian McKenzie, Rieko Ioane and Sam Cane all return to a team that stumbled past the Baa-Baas last weekend.
Beauden Barrett will again pull the strings from 10 and it’s only logical to think they see an upturn in performance this weekend. They are a step apart from the rest and will likely close out the November series unbeaten.
Wales v South Africa
So that leaves the Springboks. Not really sure what to make of this one. South Africa rugby is seemingly always on the verge of either riches or ruin. A consistent summer performance led into a Rugby Championship that featured draws with Australia and a humbling, 57-0 demolition at the hands of the All Blacks.
Wales will be confident here. This time last year SA came and left without a win, with relative minnows Italy claiming a mighty scalp.
There are certainly deep issues within the SA camp that we won’t be exploring here. For an excellent look at the current state of Rugby in South Africa be sure to check out Donald McRae’s excellent piece in the Guardian.
So, what do we reckon?
Wales v Australia – Australia win
Wales v Georgia – Wales win
Wales v New Zealand – New Zealand win
Wales v South Africa – Wales win
This was tough.
Saturday’s game was very tight to call and it really could go either way. The changes to the Welsh style of play will be a factor and this just gives the Wallabies the edge.
How do you think Wales will get on this November?