Wallabies eye off Wales in WC warm-up

A – Wallabies coach Michael Cheika will cast a keen eye on Wales’ World Cup warm-up match in Dublin on Saturday, six weeks out from their crunch pool match which is likely to decide who progresses.

A quarter-final berth will almost certainly be on the line when Australia face Wales at Twickenham on October 10 in the last round of games in Pool A.

If the two sides avoid a slip-up against Fiji or Uruguay, and with hosts England expected to top the group, their battle at Twickenham will decide which of the two proud rugby nations will be packing their bags before the knockout phase.

The Wallabies have beaten Wales in their last 10 meetings since 2009, however all but one victory has been by nine points or less.

Cheika and his staff will no doubt be eager to run their eyes over the Welsh side who take on Ireland at Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

Powerful winger George North returns for Wales after a season punctuated by concussions.

North takes his place in a strong starting line-up, joining fellow British and Irish Lions Test players like Leigh Halfpenny, Jamie Roberts, Gethin Jenkins, Alun-Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate and Taulupe Faletau for the final game before coach Warren Gatland announces a 31-man World Cup squad on Monday.

And Gatland, who underlined that player welfare will always be paramount, believes there is a lot more to come from North, who has already scored 22 tries in Wales colours.

He only has Shane Williams, Gareth Thomas and Ieuan Evans above him on Wales’ all-time Test try list.

“He burst on to the scene and was fantastic, but we have to keep putting pressure on to him,” Gatland added.

“I think there is still a lot of improvement in him. I think he has the ability to get a lot better than he is at the moment.

“He probably hasn’t played as well as we would have liked over the past 12 months. He is aware of that, but we’ve been working hard on his game.

“I can remember seeing him as an 18-year-old playing for the Scarlets. I said: ‘look, we have to cap him as soon as possible – there is a freakish talent there’.

“I don’t think we’ve seen the full extent of the potential he has as a player. And we still haven’t ruled out in the future that he could be an outstanding centre as well.”

North, who will win his 50th cap, has not played since being knocked unconscious during his club Northampton’s Premiership clash with Wasps on March 27.

The 23-year-old suffered three concussions last season, which inevitably raised questions about his long-term career prospects.

“You are concerned about all your players,” Gatland said.

“All I can say is that he’s followed all the medical protocols and done everything, and we were very conservative in the way we approached it. We made sure his welfare was paramount.”

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