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Preview: Australia vs. Wales - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Saturday's friendly clash between Australia and Wales, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

Australia and Wales, two sides in need of a major shift this year, will face off in the first match of their two-Test series at the Allianz Stadium in Sydney on Saturday morning.

In many ways, this is the ideal tour for both Australia and Wales, as they are currently languishing in ninth and 10th in the world rankings respectively, and a win for either will provide a much-needed confidence boost.

Match preview

Australia's Andrew Kellaway, Mark Nawaqanitawase and Jordan Petaia look dejected after the match on September 29, 2023© Reuters

It has been a tough few years for Australian rugby, though there is growing optimism around the camp as they hope for the dawn of a new era following a dismal World Cup campaign last year.

Much of the improved mood around the team stems from the introduction of a new head coach in the form of experienced New Zealander Joe Schmidt, who is preparing for his debut game after taking over from Eddie Jones.

It was under Jones' leadership that the Wallabies suffered a humiliating 40-6 defeat to their upcoming opponent at the World Cup - a loss that ultimately led to their tournament exit and contributed heavily to the 64-year-old's departure.

Schmidt has now been tasked with steering Australian rugby back to its glory days of the 90s and early 2000s, and the new boss has wasted no time in making his mark, announcing a new-look side that includes as many as five potential and two confirmed debutants for the upcoming Test.

While the introduction of new blood creates a definite sense of excitement for the future of the Wallabies, there have also been a few potentially warranted concerns raised, considering Schmidt's predecessor had attempted a similar strategy to no avail last year.

Wales' Taulupe Faletau in action with Australia's Tom Hooper on September 24, 2023© Reuters

Meanwhile, Wales should be fully acclimatised having now been in Sydney for a full week, and they will set off to try and bring an end to a run of seven straight defeats, six of which came in 2024.

During that time, the Dragons lost to Italy, leading to them being handed the wooden spoon at the 2024 Six Nations, and lost 41-13 at the hands of reigning world champions South Africa at Twickenham last month.

Now Warren Gatland's side face the Wallabies in Australia, having not beaten this opponent Down Under since 1969 (55 years), a period during which they have suffered 11 successive defeats in all competitions.

Despite some of those losses being by narrow margins, Wales rugby is in significant trouble, and they will be desperate to get back on track here, using that emphatic World Cup victory as a reason for optimism.

While Wales' record in this part of the world does little to inspire confidence, it is worth noting that they have been the far superior side in this contest in recent years, winning four of their last five matches against the Wallabies.

Australia form (all competitions):

  • L
  • L
  • W
  • L
  • L
  • W

Wales form (all competitions):

  • L
  • L
  • L
  • L
  • L
  • L

Team News

Australia players huddle before the match on August 27, 2023© Reuters

Spearheading the Schmidt new-look era is Liam Wright. The flanker takes the captaincy reins from Will Skelton, who skippered the side during their disastrous World Cup campaign last year. Skelton is now based overseas and was not considered for the two-Test series against the Welsh.

As mentioned, the new boss has also brought in seven new faces with two of those set to start the match in Jeremy Williams at lock and Josh Flook coming in at centre. Isaac Kailea, Angus Blyth, Charlie Cale, Tom Lynagh and Dylan Pietsch are the uncapped quintet among the Wallabies' replacements.

Gatland, on the other hand, has somewhat surprisingly named Ben Thomas at fly-half for this first Test. The Cardiff man has played much of his senior professional rugby at inside centre, making only a single start in the number 10 jersey in the United Rugby Championship this season.

Josh Hathaway, who has played for both Wales and England Under-20s, starts on the wing following Louis Rees-Zammit's move to the NFL and Exeter wing Immanuel Feyi-Waboso's decision to play for England.

Australia starting lineup: 15 Tom Wright, 14 Andrew Kellaway, 13 Josh Flook, 12 Hunter Paisami, 11 Filipo Daugunu, 10 Noah Lolesio, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Rob Valetini, 7 Fraser McReight, 6 Liam Wright (c), 5 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 4 Jeremy Williams, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Matt Faessler, 1 James Slipper

Replacements: 16 Billy Pollard, 17 Issac Kailea, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Angus Blyth, 20 Charlie Cale, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Tom Lynagh, 23 Dylan Pietsch

Wales starting lineup: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Josh Hathaway, 13 Owen Watkin, 12 Mason Grady, 11 Rio Dyer, 10 Ben Thomas, 9 Ellis Bevan, 8 Aaron Wainwright, 7 Tommy Reffell, 6 Taine Plumtree, 5 Dafydd Jenkins, 4 Christ Tshiunza, 3 Archie Griffin, 2 Dewi Lake (c), 1 Gareth Thomas

Replacements: 16 Evan Lloyd, 17 Kemsley Mathias, 18 Harri O'Connor, 19 Cory Hill, 20 James Botham, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Sam Costelow, 23 Nick Tompkins

SM words green background

We say: Australia 27-21 Wales

While Wales have been the superior side in this encounter in recent times, including beating this opponent comprehensively during the last World Cup, they are notoriously slow starters and the Wallabies are likely to come flying out the blocks in this one.

Additionally, Australia are now under the leadership of veteran Joe Schmidt, who has brought a sense of calm to the camp following a turbulent stint under Eddie Jones. This should be a very well-balanced contest but we feel the hosts will edge the result.

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Australia head coach Eddie Jones on the pitch before the match on July 8, 2023
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