Wales take on Australia on Saturday to end an abysmal twelve-game losing streak against the Wallabies, which stretches back to 2008.
We look at three key battles ahead of today’s game:
1. Josh Navidi vs Michael Hooper
The versatile forward who can play all across the back-row has excelled for Cardiff Blues in the last four years and finally gets the chance to make his home international debut after appearances against Japan, Tonga and Samoa.
Despite only tipping the scales at 15 stone, Bridgend-born Navidi very much punches above his weight. He is powerful in the contact area and a strong ball carrier who works tirelessly in defence and has decent hands, the 26-year-old is a quality player.
In the biggest test of his career, he goes up against arguably the best openside in the world in the form of Australia captain Michael Hooper.
A master at stealing opposition ball at the breakdown and a tremendous ball carrier who is a key link between forwards and backs, the 26-year-old is an outstanding talent.
Athletic with great handling skills and a huge engine, the 76 times-capped star is fundamental to ensuring quick ball at the breakdown for his team’s backs to play their exciting, expansive game.
If Wales are to win today, they must gain parity at the breakdown and slow down Australian ball as much as they can.
Navidi will have to be at the very top of his game to match his opposite number.
2. Alun Wyn Jones vs Adam Coleman
AWJ will make his 111th appearance for his country Saturday and Wales’ second most capped player continues to go from strength to strength.
Excellent at the lineout and a relentless ball carrier with good hands who’s tackle count consistently hits double figures, the 32-year-old is a world class operator.
A big game player who always leads from the front, Jones inspires those around him and the Ospreys skipper will need to shine today if Wales are to end their Wallaby hoodoo.
While the aggressive six-foot-eight, 19-stone-three Coleman has been in fine form for the Aussies, playing an important role in their resurgence this year.
The athletic 26-year-old Western Force lock who is set for a move to the Melbourne Rebels is an accomplished lineout jumper and powerful ball carrier who tackles hard and hits rucks all day long.
Abrasive and uncompromising, the Hobart-born forward is an excellent player.
With the welsh lineout having improved significantly in the last eighteen months and Australia’s lineout functioning well, the pair’s battle there should be a very interesting one. With the winner playing an important role in the outcome of the match.
3. Owen Williams vs Samu Kerevi
Gloucester fly-half Williams makes his first start for Wales today after making his debut against Tonga during the summer in a nine-minute cameo as a blood replacement.
With Wales having opted to go for a ball-playing 12 as they seek to play a more expansive, ball in hand game, the former Scarlets and Leicester man gets the nod at inside-centre having played there at various times for the Tigers during his three-year spell at Welford road.
A quality distributor with the ability to put those around him into space, the 25-year-old also has the ability to spot a gap as well as good vision and an accomplished kicking game and will be charged with bringing more creativity to a midfield which has been distinctly blunt in the last four years.
While opposite him Fijian-born Samu Kerevi forms a juggernaut midfield combination with Tevita Kuridrani.
Weighing in at 16-stone-seven, the strong-running Queensland Reds man is excellent at getting over the gainline with his sheer power, hits hard in defence, and also has a decent off-loading game.
After being dropped following the Wallabies’ opening Rugby Championship defeat to the All Blacks in August, he spent the rest of the championship on the bench. But an impressive two-try display against Japan last week has seen him keep the twelve shirt and he will be looking to once again impress.
Kerevi’s midfield partner Tevita Kuridrani has said that they will target Wales’ ten-twelve channel, so Dan Biggar and Williams will have to be alert.
Williams missed a few tackles during his side’s thrilling last-minute win over Bath recently and this is a possible area of weakness that Kerevi will look to target.
Fourteen-stone-thirteen Williams’ defence will really have to be on the money because if Kerevi can get over the gain line and provide quick, front-foot ball for the men outside him, Australia can do some serious damage to the Welsh defence.
On the flip-side, if Williams is given quick ball he has the ability to take on Kerevi and cause him problems, while his distribution skills can release dangerous runners like Jonathan Davies and Steff Evans who can ask serious questions of the Aussie defence.
The skill versus power battle should make compelling viewing.
Hefin Jones, Pundit Arena
[gravityform id=”1″ title=”true” description=”true”]
Read More About: Adam Coleman, alun wyn jones, cardiff blues, dan biggar, gloucester rugby, Japan national rugby team, Jonathan Davies, Josh Navidi, Leicester Tigers rugby, Melbourne Rebels rugby, michael hooper, Ospreys Rugby, Owen Williams, Queensland Reds rugby, Samu Kerevi, scarlets rugby, Steff Evans, Tevita Kuridrani, Tonga national rugby team, Wales vs Australia 2017, Wallabies rugby, Waratahs rugby, Western force rugby