Sat, Sep 15, 2007 - Page 19 News List

Welsh, Wallabies face off in huge match in Cardiff

RED ARMY Wales will be hoping that a 72,000 crowd at the Millennium Stadium will help them give the Australian team a run for their money today

AP , CARDIFF

George Gregan knows better than to judge Australia's 91-3 crushing of Japan against Wales' stuttering come-from-behind victory over Canada.

The only gauge of Wallabies and Welsh strength is the final result of their match in Cardiff today, said the Wallaby scrumhalf, the most capped international of all time.

At stake is top place in Group B, which will likely mean avoiding South Africa in the quarter-finals. The loser will probably have to face the Springboks, who're just behind New Zealand in Cup favoritism.

"A good tough game is a good measure of where you are as a group," Gregan said. "And there's no better challenge than playing Wales in Cardiff, second match in a World Cup."

Gregan and his longtime halves partner Stephen Larkham were key players in the undefeated squad of 1999, when Australia captured their second World Cup title.

In that campaign, Australia had to get past host Wales in the quarter-finals, beat South Africa in the semis and return to Cardiff to beat the French in the final.

Yet a group match against Ireland in Dublin eight years ago is the only one Gregan thinks is relevant to this situation.

"It was an important match for us in terms of finishing on top of the pool," he said. "It was a tough Test match, played in similar circumstances -- Ireland at Lansdowne Road -- so it's no different in that regard."

"We were probably saying the same things then -- the group will be a lot more confident and a lot more clear on where they stand after Saturday," he said.

Australia, losing finalists in 2003, opened with an emphatic win over Japan at Lyon last weekend. Wales trailed 17-9 in the second half before scoring five unanswered tries in a 42-17 win over Canada.

"This is a crucial game as far as our Pool is concerned and a lot of what we have done over the past 12 months has been preparing us for this game," Australia coach John Connolly said.

The Australians looked to be going through the motions at stages against Japan, before opening up late in the match.

"No disrespect to Japan, but ... it was a trial run for the Welsh match," Larkham said. "And basically the game plan that we prepared for Japan will be the one that we go in with against Wales."

Connolly made two changes to his starting lineup, with Drew Mitchell replacing injured Adam Ashley-Cooper on the wing and Guy Shepherdson returning from injury to replace Al Baxter at prop.

His Welsh counterpart Gareth Jenkins made key positional changes, with Stephen Jones' performance at flyhalf the catalyst for the selection of an experienced over experimental team.

Jones swung the match after replacing James Hook with the Welsh trailing 17-9 in the second half.

He was one of three veterans recalled to face Australia, with coach Gareth Jenkins selecting Colin Charvis in the backrow and Gareth Thomas at fullback and captain.

The trio, with a combined 251 Test caps, all came off the bench against Canada.

"We have brought in three players who showed last weekend what experienced heads can do to a performance," Jenkins said. "They picked up the game and were able to fashion a victory for us."

Jenkins said he put as little emphasis on Wales' recent record against the Wallabies at Cardiff as he did to the two losses a depleted Welsh squad had on tour of Australia earlier this year.

"It's the most important match a Welsh side has played for a long time," Jenkins said. "We have gone through practically every emotion possible in our last four meetings with Australia."

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