Back injury rules out captain Jones
Saturday 28 November 2009
On the face of it, Wales could have done without losing captain Ryan Jones to a back injury ahead of this evening's contest with Australia, just as the tourists could have done without messing up in Dublin and Edinburgh en route to Cardiff.
Yet Jones' absence will allow Wales to ask some serious questions of themselves, and if they come up with the right answers they could end the autumn better placed than any of their British Isles rivals.
The withdrawal of the Ospreys No 8 means a second start for the Newport Gwent Dragons flanker Dan Lydiate, who occupies the blind-side berth with Andrew Powell switching position. "We think Dan has all the tools," said Robbie McBryde, the forwards coach. "We've been hugely impressed with him over the course of the autumn series."
Lydiate's emergence, along with that of the young Cardiff Blues breakaway Sam Warburton (promoted to the bench as a result of the reshuffle) gives the Wales selectors a range of options in the back-row department, especially as the quietly accomplished Jonathan Thomas is available again after long-term injury. Should Jones suffer another slump in form, or Powell run into one brick wall too many, or – God forbid – the marvellous Martyn Williams start feeling his age, it may not be quite the calamity it might have been.
Australia, close to suicidal after the traumas of the draw with Ireland and the ridiculously wasteful defeat by the Scots, have a striking back-row operator of their own in the 21-year-old David Pocock. His performance in Dublin was quite something and his contest with Williams will be one of tonight's highlights.
Wales expect a fierce examination at the set-piece, where the Wallaby front row of Benn Robinson, Stephen Moore and Ben Alexander are fast changing the perception of Australian scrummaging. Not so long ago, it was one of the funnier jokes in sport. Now, no one is laughing. Without the incapacitated Adam Jones to anchor things from the tight-head position, the home side could easily find themselves in difficulties.
"This will be the toughest scrum we'll have come up against this month," predicted McBryde, a former Test hooker. "It's a step up for us because collectively, the Wallabies have a good understanding of what they're trying to take from set-pieces in different areas of the field. Up until now we've been able to answer our critics, but it will be a hugely contested part of the game this time."
Whatever happens, the two sides are likely to play some rugby – a blissful prospect for those bored to the marrow by the anti-rugby churned out by England. One flash of Shane Williams running from deep or Matt Giteau pulling the strings in midfield will help transform an autumn famine into a feast.
Wales: J Hook (Ospreys); L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), J Davies (Scarlets), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), D Peel (Sale); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues, capt), M Rees (Scarlets), P James (Ospreys), A W Jones (Ospreys), L Charteris (Newport Gwent Dragons), D Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons), M Williams (Cardiff Blues), A Powell (Cardiff Blues). Replacements: H Bennett (Ospreys), D Jones (Ospreys), J Thomas (Ospreys), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues), M Roberts (Scarlets), A Bishop (Ospreys), T James (Cardiff Blues).
Australia: A Ashley-Cooper (ACT Brumbies); P Hynes (Queensland), D Ioane (Queensland), Q Cooper (Queensland), D Mitchell (New South Wales); M Giteau (ACT Brumbies), W Genia (Q'land); B Robinson (NSW), S Moore (ACT Brumbies), B Alexander (ACT Brumbies), J Horwill (Q'land), D Mumm (NSW), R Elsom (ACT Brumbies, capt), D Pocock (Western Force), W Palu (NSW). Replacements: T Polota-Nau (NSW), M Dunning (Western Force), M Chisholm (ACT Brumbies), G Smith (ACT Brumbies), L Burgess (NSW), J O'Connor (Western Force), K Beale (NSW).
Referee: W Barnes (England).
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