BRISBANE, Australia (AFP) –
Six Nations champions Wales sense a golden opportunity to capitalise on the vulnerable Wallabies and win their first international in Australia in 43 years in Brisbane on Saturday.
The Australians and their coach Robbie Deans have been feeling the heat since their try-less 9-6 loss to Scotland in Newcastle on Tuesday.
Former Wallaby coach John Connolly on Friday even raised the spectre of Deans getting the sack if the Wallabies lose their three-Test home series to the Welsh.
The contrast is stark. Second-ranked Australia are scrambling to recover some of their credibility, while Wales are fit, confident and in form after storming through this year’s Six Nations unbeaten.
Wales have not won in eight Tests in Australia since their only 19-16 win in Sydney in 1969, but feel this could be their big chance to break their drought against a team that beat them to third place at last year’s World Cup in New Zealand.
“This side is playing with confidence and playing good rugby and we’re looking forward to it,” caretaker coach Rob Howley said.
“If you are going to be in World Cup finals and semi-finals we need that southern hemisphere scalp and it’s been very pleasing for us that some of our players are saying that and we believe we have that opportunity.
“The next quest is to back up that Six Nations campaign and win away in the southern hemisphere. There’s no harder place to play in world rugby.”
Howley has the luxury of choosing virtually a full-strength Welsh lineup with only dynamic running centre Jamie Roberts missing out through a knee injury.
The Welsh targeted the first Test in the three-match series by sending their first-choice side to Brisbane last week while their second-string side beat the Barbarians 30-21 in Cardiff.
“We don’t underestimate Australia. We know their unity and quality of their players. We’re very mindful of their psyche, but this side is confident,” Howley said.
“We’ve come through a good Six Nations, there’s competition for places, and we believe we’ve got an opportunity on the weekend. Winning five (Six Nations) games in a row and then beating the Barbarians last weekend puts us in a good place.”
Welsh wing great Ieuan Evans believes Wales have sent their strongest squad to Australia since their 1970s glory days and are primed for a long overdue win.
“We have to win the first Test,” Evans said. “If you lose the first Test it’s very hard coming back.
“The really intriguing thing this weekend is there’s so many great match-ups.”
Deans, under intense scrutiny following the Wallabies’ second loss to Six Nations wooden-spooners Scotland in three years, said he has chosen his best side for the Welsh examination.
“We have a lot of belief in these players. It’s not a concern for us. This is our strongest lineup,” he said.
Deans has lost 23 of 57 Tests in charge and his tenure as Australia’s first foreign coach has been tarnished by the two Scotland losses, last year’s home defeat to Samoa, the record loss to South Africa in 2008 and the pool loss to Ireland that undermined their 2011 World Cup campaign.
Connolly, who was replaced by Deans as Wallaby coach in 2008, believes the Kiwi should lose his job if Australia lose the series to Wales.
“The last four years has been the worst in the professional era (post-1995) for Australia,” Connolly told Australian Associated Press on Friday.
“If they lose this series to Wales there should be a review of the game.
“If there’s going to be a change there it’s going to be after the Wales series. This is a challenge for Robbie and Wales won’t be a pushover.”