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FEATURE Will Wallaby revenge be served up hot against Wales in July?

Will Wallaby revenge be served up hot against Wales in July?
3 weeks ago

Will Wallaby revenge be served up hot against Wales in July? They say that revenge is a dish best served cold, but only eight months have elapsed since Wales routed Australia, by 40 points to 6, on 24 September 2023. It was the key match in Pool ‘C’ at the 2023 World Cup, and defeat meant Eddie Jones’ Wallabies were rudely booted out of the tournament.

Veteran Western Force halfback Nic White has not forgotten the feeling: “Obviously, we don’t forget what they did to us at the World Cup. We’re right up for a tough task – right from the start.” The green-and-gold will be hot for a bit of payback in a couple of weeks’ time, of that there is no doubt.

White will be one of the few ‘remainers’ likely to survive from the encounter in Lyon. The run-on fifteens which trot out at the Allianz Stadium in Sydney on 6 July will bear little resemblance to the sides who represented their countries in France. Both will be very experimental: revenge will not be uppermost in their minds, but learning to play together as a team, and as sub-units will.

For Warren Gatland’s Wales, only five players who started the game at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais will pitch up for the first Test: loose-head Gareth Thomas and Aaron Wainwright from the starting pack, with scrum-half Gareth Davies, centre Nick Tompkins and full-back Liam Williams in the backline.

Wales v Australia
The painful memories of the Lyon thrashing by Wales will still be fresh in the Wallabies minds (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Joe Schmidt can count on marginally more continuity, with forwards James Slipper, Nick Frost, Tom Hooper and Bobby Valetini; and backs Tate McDermott, Ben Donaldson and Andrew Kellaway still in the frame.

The primary directive for both sides will be to look to develop their physical presence and accuracy around the set-piece and in the contact area. As Wales coach Warren Gatland suggested on the announcement of his touring squad, “I think everyone appreciates we are building towards 2027. There were moments during the Six Nations where we played some really good rugby, and put the opposition teams under some pressure, but we probably weren’t accurate enough.

“It’s about playing for longer periods, putting halves together, putting an 80-minute performance together which ultimately gives you confidence and gives you that opportunity to win games.

“The big focus for us is about our game-management, and to get better with that. But we also want to improve our collision dominance – whether that’s attack or defence – and create some more depth and competition within the squad.”

We have four days in Brisbane [together] and [only] a couple of training sessions before we play Wales. We have to build a rhythm very quickly.

Joe Schmidt

Jos Schmidt’s words echoed those of his old adversary from way, way back – when Wales and Ireland ruled the roost in the Six Nations a decade ago. He stressed the newness of it all, and the short training runway into the first match: “We have got five new coaches, and I am meeting some of these guys [players] on the grass for the first time.

“We have four days in Brisbane [together] and [only] a couple of training sessions before we play Wales. We have to build a rhythm very quickly.”

The Kiwi master-coach acknowledged that there is plenty of work to do with an inexperienced group of tight forwards: “I’ll tell you what I have got – massive confidence in [scrum coach] Mike Cron and [lineout coach] Geoff Parling and [breakdown guru] Laurie Fisher to make the most of what we have. There are times when you look at it and say, ‘Wow, there’s not a lot of experience there’, but counteracting that is the amount of experience in the coaching team.”

Joe Schmidt
Joe Schmidt has tempered expectations by saying he has had precious little time with his Wallabies before facing Wales (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Reading between the lines, the message from both coaches can be summarized as ‘don’t expect anything too fancy in July’. The Test series will be played close to set-piece and the kicking game will appear earlier rather than later in the phase-count. It will be a game of cat-and-mouse between two shrewd poker-players who know each other’s tendencies from back-to-front, and inside-out.

Both Joe and ‘Gats’ need to unearth some oven-ready tight forwards in a hurry. Schmidt will be missing his two biggest and best through injury and unavailability [Angus Bell and Will Skelton] and he has had to pass on a gaggle of European-based talent which would have provided a huge helping hand – chief among whom Brandon Paenga-Amosa and Scott Sio in the front row, and Izack Rodda behind them. There is only one top-class lineout caller in the entire 38-man squad, and that is Queensland Reds’ skipper Liam Wright.

Meanwhile, Wales will be missing all their top echelon second rows of recent times – Will Rowlands, Adam Beard and the retired legend that is Alun Wyn Jones – and they are still searching for an adequate tight-head prop to replace the unheralded and underestimated Tomas Francis, who held the Welsh scrum together for so long.

The wider squad contained no less than five applicants for Francis’ old job, who arrived from far and wide for the interview process in Oz: Keiron Assiratti from the capital city, Harri O’Connor from the Scarlets in West Wales, Archie Griffin of Bath and Dillon Lewis from the Harlequins in West London, and last but not least Henry Thomas of Castres, in the Occitanie region of France. It does not paint a pretty picture of Welsh tight forward resources.

Both Gatland and Schmidt will be starting from scratch at the coal-face, and Wales’ problems were painfully evident in the recent warm-up international against the Springboks at Twickenham, which resulted in a 41-13 loss for the Red Dragons. It was Gatland’s seventh consecutive defeat since Wales last won a game at the World Cup versus Georgia on 7 October 2023.

Wales started the game with Assiratti at No 3, face-to-face with that destroyer of scrummaging hopefuls, ‘Ox’ Nche. South Africa began by establishing that they could split the Cardiff man away from his hooker Dewi Lake, with the ‘pinch’ pressure applied by Nche and Malcolm Marx:

Lake is under so much stress in the middle that his right arm has come away from the bind on Assiratti as Marx ploughs the gap. When the Welsh tight-head tried to lower the scrum height, he was crushed by the Ox’s sheer power:

 


When he attempted to take a step inside, Nche walked straight through him:

 


It looked very much as if Irish referee Chris Busby had decided to take pity on the plight of the Welsh scrum, because he allowed the ball to be played away in the first instance, and – in one of the more bizarre decisions of the day – managed to find a penalty for Wales somewhere amid the wreckage of the second.

Assiratti departed the field for good, looking suitably dazed and confused, in only the 38th minute, but his replacement Harri O’Connor did not fare any better:

 


If he was watching, Angus Bell would have been licking his lips and hobbling eagerly towards the first scrum of the first Test, even on one leg. The big problem for Gatland is he has only two proven Test-worthy operators in his tight five, and they are Dewi Lake at hooker and Dafydd Jenkins in the second row. The rest will be bits and pieces.
The inexperience of the Welsh tight forwards was also a big factor in South Africa’s first maul try of the game:

 


All the Welsh forwards bar Aaron Wainwright commit to the point-of-receipt far too quickly, and when the Springbok forwards shift the ball around the front of the lineout there is nobody left to defend the drive. At Test level, this is more of a walkover than a pushover.

Although there is a promising back three in the making with Lions’ veteran Liam Williams and fleet-footed Rio Dyer on either side of full-back Cameron Winnett, Wales endured the same struggles putting an effective phase attack together versus South Africa as they did at the 2024 Six Nations.

In that tournament, Wales were the only nation to average under three metres per carry [2.7]. They built the same number of rucks per game as Ireland [110] but produced ball almost one full second slower than the men in green. Looking from the eagle’s nest at one of their efforts from lineout against South Africa, you can see why:

 

 

The first pass hits Wales’ main forward ball-carrier, #8 Aaron Wainwright, firmly on the left shoulder and checks his run into contact. After only two phases, there are four Welsh players with their backs to the #9, running away from the ruck when the ball is ready to be played. The only vestige of structure is a forward pod fully 10 metres behind the site of the breakdown. With so much advance notice, it is easy to see why Wales are robbed of the possession by the Springboks on next phase.

Joe Schmidt and his coaching staff only have four days and two training sessions before the first Test in Sydney to plot their revenges for catastrophe at the World Cup last September. His tight five forwards have already been stripped of the services of Will Skelton, Angus Bell, Dave Porecki, Brandon Paenga-Amosa and now Izack Rodda, and that is where the series against Wales is waiting to be won.

Gatland’s red dragons will bring an excellent back row and a back three full of counter-attacking potential, but precious little else when they step out on Australian shores. Whether it is served hot or cold, revenge will be on the Wallaby menu at Sydney and Melbourne. A 40-point defeat only eight months distant can be neither forgotten, nor forgiven.

Probable Wales XV: 1. Gareth Thomas, 2. Dewi Lake 3. Dillon Lewis, 4. Dafydd Jenkins 5. Cory Hill 6. Taine Plumtree 7. Tommy Reffell 8. Aaron Wainwright; 9. Gareth Davies 10. Sam Costelow 11. Rio Dyer 12. Nick Tompkins 13. Mason Grady 14. Liam Williams 15. Cameron Winnett.

Comments

102 Comments
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Tom 21 days ago

Great read Nick. I’ve been rewatching the early Schmidt games as Ireland coach, different kettle of fish with so much experience in the team, but outside backs that can mess up a ruck and not many offloads stood out. I’m expecting hard workers as the top attribute, with flair factors coming in second (obviously you need a mix, but one might be emphasised).

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Shaylen 23 days ago

Wales as you say are bits and pieces Nick. They have some sparks in that team though. If Reffell can have a big series and if Lake leads from the front then they may have something to work with. I am tipping Mason Grady to have a coming of age tour. I hope he tears up the midfield. Rio dyer has great pace on the outside and Liam Willams is top class. Gatland needs his big performers to stand up. The Wallabies need to hit the ground running. Funnily enough against this Wales team they will be under immense pressure to perform because of the recent form of the Welsh and the inexperienced nature of their squad. Looking at how little time they have to prepare under a new set up and with new faces in the mix they may be disjointed. It seems like the winner of this series may be decided by who makes fewer errors and can be more accurate and clinical.

J
Jon 23 days ago

Hey Nick, thank you for a well researched and explained article. I am thinking there will only be 4 remaining Welsh players from RWC as Nick Tompkins will probably miss out. This Welsh team is very inexperienced and will be low on confidence after the 6Ns so no better time for The Wallabies to taste some revenge..hot or not! As a Welsh man living in Qld I have been looking forward to the Red and Gold going toe to toe again but I feel it is very much advantage Australia. IMHO the Wallaby debacle at RWC rests with Eddie and I am confident the team are in a much safer pair of hands now. The Wallabies have plenty of quality players that I am sure Joe and his coaching team will mould into a quality team. The question is how long does he need to do it and does he have enough time until the first test???

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Nick 23 days ago

Tbh I still expect wales to win. Even though wales may not be playing well, at least they have ~6 games under their belt! That’s infinitely more time than what the WBs have had under Schmidt. This will give them some form of system to fall back onto the WBs won’t have. Nick, how will schmidt get the WBs to play given he has so little time? What should be looked for as success/failure around the ground? will he have given the players the whole gameplan and just expect them to not execute at 100%, a stripped back version, something simple/easy as a holdover, or ask them to play eyes up footy and rely on individual brilliance? As you raise here, I’d like to see the start of a foundation - stable set piece, no huge holes in D, and a pod structure in attack. I could see these games going either way - high scoring seesawing battles given leaky defences, or tedious low scoring, tight affairs because there is no gel on attack.

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Bull Shark 23 days ago

As Wales coach Warren Gatland suggested on the announcement of his touring squad, “I think everyone appreciates we are building towards 2027.

I wonder what sort of win ratio the NH part-time pundits are going to allow Gatland as he builds to 2027? Seems like folks are looking away from this one. A mulligan.

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Mzilikazi 23 days ago

There really could not be a much more benign start for Joe Schmidt to his WB career. Dave Rennie could have done with this type of kick off to his tenure as coach. Sad to see Wales so weak now, especially in the scrum. Gone are the days of “The Pontypool Front Row”. And this is classic July series game, with the NH sides weakened by the loss of injured players after a long season>. And those that are able and willing to travel exhausted.

Even so, I won’t be surprised to see Wales give the WB’s some worrying moments. But this time there will be a level of organisation in the WB’s team that was missing when Wales destroyed our team in France at RWC. There will be a cutting edge like that of a Toledo steel weapon. I for one am thankful for that result, in that it left no doubts that the craziest coach ever to control the WB’s had to go. Now we sally forth with Joe Schmidt.

j
john 23 days ago

So a kiwi coach of Wales is coming up against a kiwi coach of Australia. Frankly it’s whoop de bloody do.
There is no national passion to get excited about here.
It’s just a game of mercenaries.
How long have Wales avoided having a Welsh coach ? 20 years ? It must be like being neutered.

When are Wales going to grow some cahunas and get a Welsh coach ? Then we can think of them as a real international team representing a real country.

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Derek Murray 23 days ago

Joe’s spent a good deal of time keeping our expectations in check but I saw nothing from Wales at Twickenham myself or in your analysis here that indicates we shouldn’t expect to win.

Go Wallabies

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Mitch 23 days ago

With 9 days until the first test, I'm confident that the Wallabies will win. We'll see how confident I am in a week or so. I don’t know much about the analyst working with Joe Schmidt but if I know anything about Aussie Joe, Aussie Mike and Laurie Fisher, we’ll see a we’ll prepared and hopefully we’ll coached side in gold against Wales.

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d 23 days ago

It’s likely Slipper and Alaalatoa will start. I remember your comments on the 40 point loss and how well Slipper scrummed that day…only to be taken off and we were smashed! Hopefully with Allan and Tupou back and maybe Hodgeman we can dominate the scrum.

My guess is Frost and LsL in the row.

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