Wales desperate to beat Australia in Cardiff

Wales coach Warren Gatland has tried to play down the importance of beating
Australia in Cardiff but he knows it will be crucial ahead of the Rugby World
Cup.

Reigning Six Nations champions Wales may have won two European Grand Slams
since Gatland became their coach in 2008 but his adopted country’s record in
the same time against southern hemisphere giants New Zealand, South Africa and
Australia in the same period is dire, with just one win and 21 defeats.

Wales have lost their last eight Tests against Australia, albeit four of those
reverses have been by three points or fewer, most recently in last year’s fixture
at the Millennium Stadium where Kurtley Beale’s late try condemned the Welsh
to a 14-12 defeat.

The losing streak is all the more concerning for Wales given they have been
drawn alongside Australia and 2015 hosts England in the same World Cup “group
of death”.

Gatland tried to explain that poor run of results by saying: “People have
got to be aware that probably in the past we’ve used (the November internationals)
as a preparation for the Six Nations because that’s our bread and butter —
these are friendlies.

“Our focus has changed a bit this autumn.”

But unimpressed Wallaby coach Ewen McKenzie said: “They’ve decided suddenly
it’s time to actually go out and beat those teams, I don’t know why they weren’t
deciding that last year or the year before.

“He (Gatland) has been at it since 2008, he’s had plenty of time to make
that decision.”

This year Gatland coached the British and Irish Lions to a 2-1 series win in
Australia and 11 of the players from that squad are in his Wales starting line-up,
including fit-again wing Alex Cuthbert and powerhouse flyer George North.

Completing the back three is full-back Leigh Halfpenny, man of the series in
Australia but still eager to transfer that form from the red shirt of the Lions
to the red of Wales.

“We have been close many times now, one or two points in it,” Halfpenny
said.

“It has been very frustrating at times when we’ve come off and felt like
we played the better rugby but it didn’t quite win the game.

“Now we have to go to that next level by beating the southern hemisphere
teams like Australia,” added Halfpenny, a nominee for the International
Rugby Board player of the year award.

Unfortunately for Wales, Australia head into the final major international
of 2013 on their best run of form of the year with successive wins over Italy,
Ireland and Scotland following a tour-opening defeat by England that scuppered
all hope of a Grand Slam.

Saturday’s match is set to see fly-half Quade Cooper, frozen out by former
Australia coach Robbie Deans, win his 50th cap.

Meanwhile backs Nick Cummins and Adam Ashley-Cooper return having been among
a group of players banned by McKenzie from playing in Edinburgh for their part
in a late night drinking session in Dublin.

It was a calculated risk by McKenzie but one that appeared to do the Wallabies
little harm against a Scotland side that rarely looked like scoring a try during
Australia’s 21015 win last weekend.

Wales ought to pose more attacking threat although they themselves were rendered
try-less by South Africa earlier this month.

Several Australia players, including captain and No 8 Ben Mowen, have played
more than 30 matches this season.

But McKenzie insisted fatigue would not be an excuse come Saturday.

“We’re treating this week a little bit like our Grand Final,” said
the former Australia prop, a World Cup winner as a player in 1991.

“I think everyone will be extremely motivated by the circumstances of
the game and the opportunity to play Wales in their backyard,” McKenzie
added.

One thing both packs in par

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