Warren Gatland is taking the Lions to Australia next year and his Wales team will on Saturday try to break the longest unsuccessful run of any of the home unions against the top southern hemisphere sides when they take on the Wallabies for the sixth time in the past 14 months.
Wales have not beaten one of the big three from the south – New Zealand, Australia and South Africa – since this weekend four years ago, when they defeated the Wallabies 21-18. Jamie Roberts, Gethin Jenkins and Matthew Rees are the only survivors from the starting lineup that day and, although eight of their 15 defeats against the trio since then have been in bonus point territory, they have consistently faltered at the moment of reckoning.
Scotland defeated Australia this summer, Ireland caused the upset of last year's World Cup when they beat the Wallabies, 11 months after England had produced one of their best displays since the 2003 World Cup against the men in green and gold. "Our record against the three frustrates me," said the Wales captain, Sam Warburton. "Enough is enough.
"Scotland won in Australia this year and have beaten South Africa; it is doable. We have got to beat them. I told the players before the New Zealand game on Saturday that I have been involved in these matches for the last three years and failing to get a scalp is getting on my nerves. All the squad feel like that."
It will be Australia's last Test before next year's Lions tour. Wales have a Six Nations to navigate before then, although Gatland will not be with the squad as he resumes his sabbatical and watches the other home unions. "It is the last opportunity for our group before that series and it will also be important for the Wales players," said the Australia coach, Robbie Deans.
Wales have made four changes to the side that lost to the All Blacks last week, all at forward. The two changes at prop are enforced with Paul James back at Bath and Aaron Jarvis injured, while Ian Evans replaces the concussed Bradley Davies in the second row. Aaron Shingler starts at blindside flanker with Ryan Jones, who had tests this week after suffering concussion against the All Blacks, on the bench.
Davies will miss the two rounds of the Heineken Cup next month with Cardiff Blues because of the injury he sustained when the New Zealand hooker, Andrew Hore, struck him in the side of the face in the opening minutes. He was taken to hospital and has suffered short-term memory loss.
"Bradley will be out for four weeks and Hore got a five-week ban," said Gatland. "Everyone saw how bad the incident was and there is no need for me to comment on it. The judiciary has come up with apunishment and there is nothing to be gained in looking back."
Davies was one of eight injuries Wales have suffered in the first half of matches this month, a factor that has contributed to slow starts. Defeats by Argentina, Samoa and the All Blacks have left them in danger of dropping out of the top eight of the world rankings – they will fall to ninth if they lose to Australia, a team they have beaten twice in the past 22 meetings between the sides.
"The rankings do not come into it," Gatland said. "If you are not in the top four, you know you are going to be in a tough World Cup group. We just need a bit of luck and some 50-50 calls to go our way. Craig Joubert [the referee] apologised after the match last week for wrongly penalising Sam Warburton. Instead of having a turnover we went 9-0 down and decisions like that can be the difference between winning and losing in tight matches."
Australia, who are playing their 16th Test in the past year, have made three changes from the team that started in Rome last weekend, again all at forward.
The most significant is the return of the flanker David Pocock, who has not played since the opening round of the Rugby Championship last August. Tatafu Polota‑Nau replaces Stephen Moore at hooker and Kane Douglas takes over from the suspended Sitaleki Timani in the second row. The captain, Nathan Sharpe, who has twice before retired from Test rugby, will be making his final appearance for the Wallabies.
"It has been a remarkable season for injuries," said Deans. "We have 28 blokes who have been part of our programme in the last two years who are unavailable to us at the moment. It is a unique circumstance, indicative of the load players carry today. International rugby has come to be all about managing squads.
"The players know that after the final whistle there will be some respite coming. We will not be talking about the Lions before the game, but if everyone is in good shape for that series, we will have a good pool to pick from."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © zoonabar