Ospreys youngster Joe Hawkins will make his Wales debut and veteran Alun Wyn Jones has been recalled to the starting line-up for Wales boss Wayne Pivac’s must-win game against Australia this Saturday.
Hawkins replaces Owen Watkin at inside center partnered by the experienced George North in the midfield, while 105-capped North welcomes Taulape Faletau to test rugby’s 100 club, with Faletau back at number eight.
In all there are half-a-dozen changes to Wales’ team, with an enforced switch seeing Leigh Halfpenny make his first international start since the summer of 2021 as he replaces Louis Rees-Zammit, who is back for Gloucester tomorrow at Harlequins.
Rounding off the new faces are Gareth Anscombe and Rio Dyer who feature in the place of Rhys Priestland and Josh Adams in the number 10 and 11 jerseys respectively.
Under-fire Wales boss Wayne Pivac said: “The whole squad is extremely disappointed with last week’s performance [against Georgia].
“It is not the result that anybody wanted, it is not the result that anyone expected.
“We have gone through a review process. We know what went wrong and what is required to get the result this weekend.
“Certainly, it is a side we’ve selected to get a result, which we are desperately seeking.
“We are playing an Australian side that will have a lot of changes for probably similar reasons to ourselves over the last month or so with injuries, but what we do know about Australia is that they are a dangerous side whatever team they put out.”
Indeed, injuries have forced Australia into six changes of their own from the starting XV that were agonizingly beaten by Ireland late on last weekend.
There are two new half-backs with Ben Donaldson making his first start at fly-half and Jake Gordon getting the nod inside him at nine, while outside them Reece Hodge makes his first start at inside center for the Wallabies in six years.
The front five are unchanged, with skipper James Slipper turning out for the 127th time for his country, but injuries to Michael Hooper and Rob Valentini have forced coach Dave Rennie into bringing in a new seven and eight, with Fraser McReight slotting in on the vacant openside and the powerful Langi Gleeson making his first test start at the back of the scrum.
In a re-shuffled back three Mark Nawaqanitawase swaps wings, Tom Wright moves into full-back to cover the gap left by the injured Andrew Kellaway, and Jordan Petaia is called in on the right-wing.
Speaking on Donaldson’s first start at ten, Rennie said: “Ben has had a great year. He’s been impressive at training around his skillset and detail and has earned his opportunity to start for his country this week.”
It’s a special occasion for Sam and his family. Over the past five weeks he’s impressed us with his diligence and work ethic and he deserves the chance to debut on Saturday.
“We’re well aware of a Wales side that will be looking to respond after last week but we’re equally as motivated to finish our season on a positive note here in Cardiff.”
Analysis by Nick Powell, TRP Online Editor
Regardless of last week’s result, Wayne Pivac was always going to remain in post for the final game of the Autumn Nations Series, but the pressure on this particular fixture has reached a huge level for him personally.
A defeat, particularly one of a one-sided nature, could spell the end of his tenure with the WRU having roughly two months to find a replacement in time for 2023 Six Nations.
Dave Rennie relieved some of the pressure on his own position with Australia’s impressive performance in defeat against Ireland last week, but he’ll be desperate to avoid yet another close loss.
Since Rennie took over the Wallabies in 2020, they have come within an unconverted try of winning games they’ve ultimately fallen short of victory in on 12 occasions. That accounts for 57% of all the times Rennie has failed to win as Wallaby coach.
Half of these near misses have come in the last year, beginning with Wales’ narrow win against 14 men at the same venue precisely 12 months ago on Sunday.
The only nation to play five matches this Autumn will be “desperately seeking” a win just as much as Pivac’s Wales, having fallen short by one point to France and Italy followed by the late penalty kick which denied them in Dublin.
The bookmakers favor Wales by three, but with both sides making half a dozen changes and under as much pressure as they are to win, it would take a brave person to put money on either team.
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