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Preview: Australia v Wales

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The respective domestic seasons are over, the best players have come to the fore and proved their worth and now it is time for the finest in Australia and Wales to do battle in a two Test series. At least that is how it is meant to be, but in reality it is a different story.

Firstly Australian rugby and successful teams are not exactly synonymous at present, a quick glance at the final Super 14 standings will confirm any doubts as to how bad times have been, just ask the Reds. Not exactly the ideal preparations to go into the international season with.

Added to that John Connolly has, for the first time, deemed it necessary to appoint co-captains. The major surprise being that not only did George Gregan lose the outright captaincy but he was also overlooked for the co-captaincy.

On the other hand the Welsh regions have enjoyed contrasting successes, with the Ospreys clinching the Magners League title from the Blues on the last weekend of action and the Scarlets making it to the Heineken Cup semi-finals. It was somewhat of a surprise then that they were greeted in Sydney with such hostility.

“After the (Welsh) squad touched down for their two Tests it was fortunate customs officers didn’t send them home on the next plane for arriving under false pretences,” wrote John Geddes in the Sydney Daily Telegraph. A slightly harsh criticism off a squad pruned of their leading players after an arduous season at home.

Yet despite their respective predicaments both sides will boast vast experience, despite coming in for criticism over weakened selection policies. The truth is that with the World Cup looming large on the horizon both Gareth Jenkins and John Connolly are running short on chances to run the rule over players hopefully of making it to France.

In the aftermath of Gregan’s dethroning Matt Giteau steps into the number nine shirt, a role he became accustomed to occupying for the Wallabies last season. Once the incumbent name on the team sheet Gregan now finds himself riding pine for an inside centre come scrum half, hardly happy times for the Brumbies stalwart.

For an experimental side, as the Australians have been dubbed this week, their pack gleams with quality and has more than a slightly heavyweight look to it. Matt Dunning in particular will add some much needed beef at the scrum, having packed on an extra eight kilograms of muscle since his last Wallabies outing.

The back row has a mature blend of power and pace, with the wily ball-winning Phil Waugh complimented by the hard hitting and direct running of Wycliff Palu and the abrasive Rocky Elsom.

It is the back line which has an element of experiment to it, although the use of Giteau at scrum-half can hardly be justified as an experiment now. The inclusion of Adam Ashley-Cooper at inside centre is something of a risk, although he has showed his talents in a poor Waratahs side during the Super 14.

The troubled full-back spot, for so long occupied by the injured Chris Latham, goes to debutante Julian Huxley, who to his credit was one of the standout players in the Super 14, and not just in Australia. The emergence of Huxley has been a blessing for Connolly who at one stage had thought of recalling veteran Matt Burke.

Gareth Jenkins, whilst without the services of several key players, has named a side with an air of respectability and more than its fair share of experience. Granted, the bulk of the caps comprise mainly of those won by Gareth Thomas and Colin Charvis, but those less decorated are hardly new to the international arena.

Gareth Thomas will become the most capped Welsh player on Saturday, as he wins his 93rd cap in an international career that started at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa. His fellow wing Chris Czekaj was only ten on the day Thomas first donned the three feathers, a fact that highlights the mix of youth and experience in the side.

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