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Williams column: This Wales side have got Michael Cheika worried

Justin Tipuric

I LIKE where Wales are at going into this morning’s game with Australia – not just for facing the Wallabies but for the rest of the Pool stages too. My view is that they have got inside Michael Cheika’s head. Australia have picked a team to counteract Wales’ strengths and I’m not sure that has ever happened before.

The challenge now is to capitalise on that. Whenever the southern hemisphere giants have played Wales in the past they would not have worried too much about them.

New Zealand, Australia and South Africa would have paid them respect of course, but deep down they would also be thinking that if they play to their best, they will win regardless of what opposition turns up.

Now things are different. This is a different Wales side. We all know how good they are. For this morning’s game I was surprised to see Australia change their half-backs. Nic White and Christian Lealiifano had been starting, but now Will Genia and Bernard Foley are back in.

Kurtley Beale has also been moved to the bench with Dane Haylett-Petty at full-back. I know Cheika had to make at least one change due to Reece Hodge’s suspension, but to me the Australian selection clearly shows they have picked a side to counteract Dan Biggar’s kicking game. Haylett-Petty is there for that exact reason as he is a solid defensive operator.

This is unchartered territory for Wales and I’m intrigued to see how they react.  Wales need to keep the Wallabies guessing.

What Cheika’s men will be expecting is for Dan to boot a lot of possession away and for Wales to play the percentages early on. It would surprise them if Wales play with tempo and try a running game. If they do that, they could get some very early rewards as they did against Georgia.

Australia are, of course, a much tougher team to break down than Georgia, but the element of surprise is the key here. Clearly you don’t want to get involved in an end-to-end game of Sevens with any southern hemisphere side, but Wales need to be bold and brave on the biggest of stages.

If they play in the right areas of the field I can see them getting some joy against that Australian back-line. James O’Connor is still quite inexperienced as an outside centre. Jonathan Davies will look to get an edge in that area and I hope Wales test out O’Connor defensively.

With Australia’s selection and the fact Cheika has spent most of the week going nuclear at World Rugby over Hodge’s suspension, my view is that Wales already have the psychological upper hand.

Now they need to ram it home on the field. It was no real surprise for me that Warren Gatland named an unchanged side. Aaron Wainwright has been playing well and Justin Tipuric and Josh Navidi are both needed on the field at the same time to deal with the twin threat of Michael Hooper and David Pocock.

I thought Wyn Jones was also very good against Georgia and didn’t deserve to lose out on a place.

The back-line is as expected and I was relieved to see Hadleigh Parkes passed fit to start even though he has been struggling with a broken bone in his hand. Wales have to play with the same intensity as they did for the first half against Georgia. It was a good start, but must be maintained for 80 minutes if they are to beat Australia.

Michael Hooper
Grafter: Michael Hooper will need to be neutralised at the breakdown. Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

One concern I do have from a Welsh perspective is the breakdown area. It has been a worry over the last 12 months with isolated one-up runners carrying the ball into contact.

When that happens there is little support for the carrier and against the best teams turnovers are possible. This will play right into the hands of Hooper and especially Pocock. He’s a machine. You can get away with doing that sort of thing against a team like Georgia, but not a side as good as Australia. I thought the breakdown technique was poor against Georgia with a lot of players going far too high at times. That needs to be sorted out.

If Wales lose the breakdown battle against Hooper and Pocock they lose the game. 

If Justin has the better of it Wales will win. Justin had his best game for a very long time against Georgia and I had him down as man of the match after about an hour. He’s just phenomenal.

When Wales and Dan do kick, that area will have to be spot on as Australia are great in the air.

What I want to see is the team start the game with the same tempo and intensity as Georgia, but keep the foot on the pedal right until the end. Wales can’t allow Australia a foothold early in the game. If they do that it could be terminal, so let’s keep them on their toes with pick and goes and some surprising attacking plays.

Whatever happens I’m sure it’s going to be a close and exciting game. It always is when these two sides play – I’m not sure my heart is going to be able to take another thriller!

For me Wales against Australia is the second biggest game of the World Cup so far after New Zealand’s meeting with South Africa.

I have enjoyed the tournament even though it has been dominated by talk of high tackles and disciplinary procedures. To me that’s a massive shame and the referees had a poor start. I’m sure that will improve moving forwards.

Of the players I’ve seen I would like to make a special mention of some of the emerging nations. We all know how good men like Beauden Barrett, Alun Wyn Jones and Faf de Klerk are.

In the first game of the tournament I was very impressed by Japan pair Kotaro Matsushima and Kazuki Himeno. As a former wing I particularly enjoyed Himeno’s performance – a World Cup hat-trick no matter who it is against or when it comes is not to be sniffed at!

And what a result it was for Uruguay against Fiji, followed by Japan’s win over Ireland. What fabulous shock results. Hopefully Uruguay have done Wales a favour too.

Uruguay captain Juan Manuel Gaminara was absolutely immense in that game and I just loved his post-match interview on TV. You could see how shocked he was at what had happened, but what was also obvious was the passion he has for his country. It was seeping out of him!

That’s what the World Cup is all about for me. Yes it’s about the big teams going at it, but it’s also about the smaller nations and less well-known players getting their chance on the big stage.

Uruguay took their opportunity in style and hats off to Gaminara and his team-mates for that. My only hope is Wales don’t become their next victim! Personally I can’t see that happening, but there is no doubt a shock is good for the World Cup. Uruguay and Japan have delivered that and now I can’t wait for the action to continue.

SHANE WILLIAMS

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