“Desperate” Wales have vowed to use lessons from past pain to bury their Wallabies hoodoo in Saturday’s high stakes Rugby World Cup shootout for the Pool A top spot.
Their 10-game losing streak against Australia looks horrendous but Wales coach Warren Gatland takes much comfort from the fact that the matches were almost invariably close, with just one double-digit winning margin.
For the Welsh, victory at Twickenham on Saturday (early Sunday AEDT) would wash away all the pain from those agonising losses because the rewards are so significant.
While both teams have already qualified for the knockout stage after beating England in the past fortnight, the winner will avoid a quarter-final showdown with South Africa and a likely semi with reigning world champions New Zealand.
But in order to achieve a much more inviting path toward the final, Wales must do something they haven’t done since November 2008, when they beat the Wallabies 21-18.
Most of the nine subsequent close encounters involved some late drama, like utility back Kurtley Beale’s miracle last-minute try in Cardiff in 2012 delivering a two-point win.
“We are desperate to win this game, as win this group and potentially your road through to quarters, semis and final is a little bit easier than on the other side of the draw,” Gatland said.
“The last five times against Australia there has been a score in it. We’ve been ahead in games and not been able to finish it off.
“You learn from that, and experience comes from that.”
To that end, the role of the Wallabies’ bench “finishers” will be even more important than usual, with the likes of Beale, Ben McCalman, Nick Phipps and the replacement front row expected to come on and either ice the game – or rip it from Welsh hands.
McCalman may feel aggrieved at again being handed a finisher role despite the one-game suspension of vice-captain Michael Hooper opening up a spot in the starting back-row.
Cheika instead opted for hard-charging young gun Sean McMahon, who has played just six Tests but won man-of-the-match honours in his past two.
McMahon’s selection causes the least disruption to the Wallabies’ ongoing selection, with David Pocock allowed to continue his fine progression in the No.8 role – instead of being moved back to No.7, which would’ve been likely had McCalman started.
Rob Simmons is another entrusted with a key finishing role, having been dumped as the team’s main lineout caller for Dean Mumm, who impressed off the bench against Fiji and England, captained the victory over Uruguay and has the most lineout steals this tournament.
“I think we’ve got a big influence this weekend in what the finishers can do but it’s as big as what the foundations were by those who came before,” said Mumm, who starts at lock alongside Kane Douglas.
“You go about it in a way that the game is there to be won then you come home with a strong bench.
“I do think we have a very strong bench, people who can influence a game.
“Then it’s about making sure that can happen and that has happened in previous games to (put) those guys in that position to have the influence.”
Australia: Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, David Pocock, Sean McMahon, Scott Fardy, Dean Mumm, Kane Douglas, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore (capt), Scott Sio. Res: Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper, Greg Holmes, Rob Simmons, Ben McCalman, Nick Phipps, Matt Toomua, Kurtley Beale.
Wales: Gareth Anscombe; Alex Cuthbert, George North, Jamie Roberts, Liam Williams; Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Taulupe Faletau, Justin Tipuric, Sam Warburton (capt); Alun Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris; Samson Lee, Scott Baldwin, Paul James. Res: Ken Owens, Aaron Jarvis, Tomas Francis, Jake Ball, Ross Moriarty, Lloyd Williams, Rhys Priestland, James Hook.