Like the two unassuming lads who join forces to evict the overbearing bully from the party, Wales and Australia now get to compete for the beautiful girl.
The fact that it was the bully’s party, and the girl is called Bill, are mere bagatelles. Watching Australia push England out the door with a firm Argentinian shove was worth the price of admission to the party on its own.
Sir Clive Woodward, Brian Moore and Danny Cipriani can still be heard, whining in the kitchen.
Meanwhile, Wales and Australia get to party!
This is the 38th game between these two proud rugby nations. Australia have won 27, including the last 10. But the difference between the teams is much closer than the statistics suggest. The average points difference between the teams in those ten games was just 6 points. If we ignore the relative blowout of the 2009 test that the Wallabies won 33-12, the difference falls to just 4.
Hardly the stuff of dominance. More a case of the Wallabies continually winning by the skin of their teeth, with last-gasp tries like Kurtley Beale’s in 2012, which pushed Wales back to ninth in the rankings, and set up the infamous pool of death.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Beale is on the bench today, and what an interesting bench it is: Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper, Greg Holmes, Rob Simmons, Ben McCalman, Nick Phipps, Matt Toomua and Kurtley Beale. Plenty of potential starters there. Plenty of players who were (and are) in many peoples’ first XVs.
Welcome to the age of the finisher.
And not coincidentally, welcome to the new age of Wallaby depth. With the exception of a few outright freaks such as David Pocock and Israel Folau, we can now field two XVs of more or less equal strength.
Michael Hooper suspended? Get a Sean McMahon. Rob Horne injured? How about Australia’s World Cup try-scoring record-holder Drew Mitchell? This is unprecedented in Wallaby rugby.
Wales might not be as lavishly stacked on the bench, but they’re a very strong team. They just beat England, and they beat them by out-finishing them. They’re superbly fit. This could be a finish for the ages.
Fascinatingly, Wales have chosen to fight fire with fire and pick two opensides. Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric are both outstanding on the ball. Tiputron vs. Pokemon! Twickenham could get burned down yet again!
The main difference between the two back rows is that Wales have picked a traditional eight man in Taulupe Faletau, while Australia is continuing the experiment of playing David Pocock at eight. And what an experiment it has been. Pocock has lost none of his impact on the ground, pushes like a monster in the scrum, and runs like one in the loose.
What more could we ask of an eight, apart from a few more centimetres for the lineout?
The lineout? That may be interesting. Wales have a tall lineout, with Luke Charteris at 2.09m leading the way. That’s a whopping seven centimetres taller than our tallest man, Kane Douglas. Our chief lineout caller, Rob Simmons, is on the bench. Whether this is for a rest before a long finals run, and to give Mumm some time, or because Mumm provides more in the loose, is hard to say. Presumably it’s the first. Simmons is a key cog in the Wallaby machine. Never the most glamourous player, its Simmons who keeps the lineout component of the set piece running smoothly. Expect to see him back.
But also, perhaps, expect to see Wales lead in this element of the game.
Michael Cheika’s saying nothing. That appears to be Cheika’s pre-game method in this tournament: to let the team to the talking on the field. Long may it continue. Of course that hasn’t stopped him being outspoken after the games, as we’ve seen. But that consists mainly of talking bollocks with a sly metaphorical wink.
We’re unlikely to ever see him having a cringeworthy moan on Twitter, and may that continue as well.
This is shaping up as a fascinating game. Route One to the RWC final lies one way. A horror draw lies the other, with the likelihood of having to meet South Africa, New Zealand and then the winner of this game again.
It’s also shaping up as an exciting game. This is a good Wallaby side. It may be a very good one. In a month’s time we might be calling it a great one.
Wales won’t give an inch. They have their own unstoppable force in George North. Anyone who can remember him picking up Israel Folau, or wagging a finger at Will Genia as he scored a bombastic winger’s try, won’t want to see either of those things again.
George North vs. Israel Folau
Who can forget George North lifting up Israel Folau in a fireman lift and then running with him down the field? That one probably ended up about even, with North faceplanting the Melbourne turf. The turf eventually recovered.
North is at 13 today. This is also Folau’s habitual channel from the back. These two great attacking players will come in contact.
Tiputron vs. Pokemon
What a marvellous development: two teams intentionally playing twin open sides in a crucial World Cup match. Eddie Jones, you were ahead of your time. I think we have to give the edge to Pokemon in this, simply because of Pocock’s enormous powers. There isn’t a lot between Pocock right now, and Richie McCaw at his peak. And that’s saying something.
McMahon is his own force of nature. There’s no clear limit to his potential. He might end up the best of them all.
This game is going to go one of two ways. If Wales succumb to simple exhaustion, and a long injury list that sees many of their top players in the stands, then the Wallabies could put on a score.
I don’t think they will. Wales are too proud, and too good.
History suggests this will go down to the wire.
Wallabies by five.
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 David Pocock, 7 Sean McMahon, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Dean Mumm, 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (c) 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Kurtley Beale
Wales: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 George North, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sam Warburton (c), 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Paul James
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Aaron Jarvis, 18 Tom Francis, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 James Hook
Date: Saturday, October 11
Kick-off: 2:45 AEST (16:45 local)
Referee: Craig Joubert
Assistant Referees: Jerome Garces, Stuart Berry
TMO: Shaun Veldsman