Jenkins confident 'underdogs' have talent to wallop Australia

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The Independent Online

Gareth Jenkins will proudly send his country out for the first time on home soil today with the declaration "we are no longer the underdogs - we should be expecting to win this game" ringing as loudly in their ears as it will be in the Cardiff bars.

The new Wales coach will add as a caveat "in fact, we should be expecting to win every game" but appreciates he will be drowned out. It is the here and now that counts to a nation desperate to restate their Grand Slam credentials. Two factors suggest they will not be disappointed. The first is that Australia have seemingly arrived more intent on experimentation than celebration. Their back line reminds of an Eric Morecambe piano recital - playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.

True, Mat Rogers is good enough to be an instant international hit at No 10 and the same could be said of Matt Giteau at scrum-half and the midfield partnership of Stephen Larkham and Lote Tuqiri. But what are the odds of them all hitting it off at the same time at the same place? Probably just as great as those on their much-maligned pack putting on a match-winning show of domination. Not likely.

Which makes John Connolly's selection all the more baffling, especially as it was the Wallabies' loss at the Millennium Stadium last year that was ultimately responsible for the sacking of his predecessor, Eddie Jones. Jenkins will not admit it, but he is as bemused as anyone, hinting at this yesterday by saying "they have a different agenda to us".

Wales' is a simple and daunting one: to recreate the magic of 2005. "We've been waiting a long time to have a good and fit squad," said Jenkins teeing up the second reason why a Welsh win must be favourite today. "And now we've got one." Say hello again, Gavin Henson and Tom Shanklin. Take a bow, Kevin Morgan and Gareth Thomas. Together with the peerless Dwayne Peel, the irrepressible Shane Williams and the controller-turned-captain, Stephen Jones, they form a back division that has already cut its way into nostalgia and still promises so much. If the forwards are anywhere near as superior as Jenkins suspects they might be then the possession so often denied them will be no excuse today. Indeed, with essentially the first XV on the field, there will be no excuses.

Jenkins admitted he was "apprehensive", but not particularly by any psychological edge that may be forfeited before next September's World Cup group game. "That's a long way off and these autumn internationals are just the first set of four building blocks," he said. "It's fair to say, though, that the clock starts ticking this weekend." Wales will be hoping it consents to rewind itself as well.

Today's Millennium Stadium teams

WALES

15 K Morgan (Newport-Gwent Dragons); 14 Gareth Thomas (Toulouse), 13 T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), 12 G Henson (Ospreys), 11 S Williams (Ospreys); 10 S Jones (Llanelli Scarlets, capt), 9 D Peel (Llanelli Scarlets); 1 G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), 2 M Rees (Llanelli Scarlets), 3 A Jones (Ospreys), 4 I Gough (Newport-Gwent Dragons), 5 I Evans (Ospreys), 6 J Thomas (Ospreys), 7 M Williams (Cardiff Blues), 8 R Jones (Ospreys).

Replacements: 16 R Thomas (Cardiff Blues), 17 D Jones (Ospreys), 18 Gavin Thomas (Llanelli Scarlets), 19 A W Jones (Ospreys), 20 M Phillips (Cardiff Blues), 21 J Hook (Ospreys), 22 M Jones (Llanelli Scarlets).

AUSTRALIA

15 C Latham (Queensland Reds); 14 C Rathbone (ACT Brumbies), 13 L Tuqiri (NSW Waratahs), 12 S Larkham (ACT Brumbies), 11 C Shepherd (Western Force); 10 M Rogers (NSW Waratahs), 9 M Giteau (Brumbies); 1 A Baxter (NSW Waratahs), 2 T McIsaac (Western Force), 3 R Blake (Queensland Reds), 4 N Sharpe (Western Force), 5 D Vickerman, 6 R Elsom, 7 P Waugh (capt), 8 W Palu (all NSW Waratahs).

Replacements: 16 B Cannon (Western Force), 17 B Robinson (NSW Waratahs), 18 M Chisholm, 19 S Hoiles (both ACT Brumbies, 20 J Valentine (Queensland Reds), 21 M Gerrard, 22 A Ashley-Cooper (both ACT Brumbies).

Referee: S Walsh (New Zealand).

Kick-off: 2.30. TV: BBC1.

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