Wales bid to snap losing streak in Australia Test
CARDIFF (Wales) (AFP)
Statistics do not lie. Wales' record in the November Tests is a dismal one, notably against opponents from the Southern Hemisphere and they face another stiff match against Australia on Saturday.
Since Warren Gatland took over in 2008, Wales have managed just two wins against the "big three" of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in 33 games in total.
Rob Howley is now temporarily at the helm with Gatland having been seconded to the British and Irish Lions ahead of the 2017 tour to New Zealand.
The former Wales scrum-half can but hope that things improve compared to his last caretaker spell when Gatland had his first stint with the Lions, Howley overseeing four straight November losses to Argentina, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia in 2012.
But thoughts Howley might have had that Saturday posed the best opportunity to snap an 11-match losing streak against Australia dating back to 2008 have surely been diluted by the absence of three crucial forwards.
Captain Sam Warburton instead turns out for club side Cardiff Blues against Treviso in the Celtic League on Friday in a bid to regain match fitness after an injury lay-off, No 8 Taulupe Faletau is out with an injured knee and Alun Wyn Jones withdrew after the death of his father.
In-form Scarlets full-back/wing Liam Williams has also failed to recover from an ankle knock, meaning Leigh Halfpenny resumes business at the back in his first international in 14 months, with Alex Cuthbert recalled to the wing.
Wallaby coach Michael Cheika handed David Pocock a first start at blindside flanker, with Tevita Kuridrani, at outside centre, the only other change to his starting XV.
Both Wales and Australia head into Saturday's game with just three wins from their last 11 Tests, but Wales skipper Gethin Jenkins and the straight-talking Cheika played down any significance.
"We've come up close a couple of times and obviously lost in the last play of the game a few times," said prop Jenkins, Wales' most capped player. Six of the last 11 losses to Australia have been in single digits.
"They're a quality team. We know we've got to be on the top of our game to get a result against them and Saturday will be no different.
"They're coming here on the back of what's been some improved performances in the Rugby Championship and they'll be looking at their past history against us to try and get that victory."
Cheika, who has tasted success in the Rugby Championship, Super Rugby, European Cup and Celtic League, has come under criticism in Australia for the team's string of disappointing results.
The Wallabies were World Cup finalists and more recently Rugby Championship runners-up, but since losing to New Zealand a year ago, there has been a six-match losing streak including a 3-0 whitewash by England and a record 42-6 defeat by the All Blacks, all at home.
"I don't know if anyone's thinking about 12 in a row when you haven't won as many games as we should've won this year," Cheika said.
"That hasn't even popped up on anyone's radar. All that stuff is exactly what it is - the past. It gives us nothing on Saturday and gives them nothing either. The two teams on match day, putting their best rugby forward, and the better team will win - that's how it always boils down."
The Welsh have never won more than half of their games played in an autumn series since its introduction with the advent of professionalism in 1996.
But for both Wales and Australia, there is the added incentive of winning to improve their World Rugby rankings.
The Wallabies currently sit third behind New Zealand and England, with Wales fifth. Both teams will be bidding to nail down a top-four spot in an effort to secure what should be an "easier" pool draw for the 2019 World Cup in Japan, to be made in Kyoto in May.
While Wales have the Six Nations to further improve their standing, the Wallabies have just this series of matches to prove their worth.
© 2016 AFP