Australia – Wales: Wales hopes to avoid dark skies in Sydney

Image source, Huw Evans Photo Agency

Image description, The Welsh players train under the grey skies of their base in northern Sydney

Men’s friendly match (international match): Australia vs Wales

Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney Date: Saturday, July 6 Begin: 10:45 CEST

Cover: Listen on BBC Radio Wales, Radio Cymru, BBC Sounds, the BBC Sport website and app, plus live text commentary followed by report and reaction on the BBC Sport website and app.

  • Author, Gareth Griffiths
  • Role, BBC Sport Wales
  • Report from Sydney, Australia

Storm clouds and sunshine dominated Sydney’s spectacular skyline this week.

Winter has arrived in Australia's most famous city. The weather is difficult to predict as dark clouds and blue skies alternate regularly.

Australia and Wales are looking to make a fresh start for the two crisis-hit rugby nations and the fluid climate reflects the uncertainty about what will happen when they meet in a friendly at Allianz Stadium on Saturday.

The Welsh have not toured Australia for twelve years and the expats are delighted to see the return of some of their most revered countrymen.

This is evident whether it is with members of the Sydney Welsh Choir rehearsing in a community hall in the suburb of West Rye on a Wednesday night, or at a special pre-match fan meet-up by the group “Welsh in Sydney” at Taffy's at the Oaks Pub in Neutral Bay.

History seems to be against both the host in the capital of New South Wales and his guests, and something has to go wrong.

Australia have won just one game in Sydney in 12 attempts since the start of 2016, while Wales have failed to beat the Wallabies in Australia in 11 games since 1969.

That victory was achieved at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), right next to Saturday's venue, where Wales head coach Warren Gatland will be hoping his side can repeat the success of 55 years ago.

Australian rugby should remain relevant

video subtitles, “Touching” cultural reception for the Welsh team in Australia

In conversations with various personalities this week, many observers spoke of Australian rugby being in “great distress”.

Most people can't believe that the Wallabies are favorites against Wales.

The importance of rugby union and a general apathy towards the sport in the country are also cause for concern.

The Wallabies won the World Cup in 1991 and 1999 and hosted the 2003 World Cup, losing to England in the final. Since those glory days, things have gone downhill over the last 20 years.

If you watch any news program on Australian television this week, you get a sense of the importance these two Test matches currently hold in the country's sporting psyche.

The news anchor said July would be a banner month for Australian sports fans, pointing to the Olympics, Wimbledon and the deciding match of the State of Origin rugby league series in Brisbane. The fact that the Wallabies are hosting Wales was barely mentioned.

It highlights the struggle rugby union faces in competing with other seasonal sports such as rugby league, Aussie Rules and soccer – although this is not a new phenomenon.

There has been instability in the sport in this country. There were six Wallabies captains in 2023 and there has also been a regular turnover of general managers and head coaches in recent years.

The impact of the disastrous 2023 World Cup campaign, in which Australia failed to qualify for the quarter-finals for the first time, led to the resignation of controversial head coach Eddie Jones and chairman Hamish McLennan also leaving the team.

Financial problems also arose, with the Australian Rugby Federation taking out a £40 million loan last year.

Australia must therefore survive and rebuild itself as it aims to become the centre of world rugby in the coming years.

They will welcome the British and Irish Lions next year and host the men's and women's World Championships in 2027 and 2029.

The revival must begin soon as this series may be seen as the beginning of a new era.

Restoring confidence in Wales

video subtitles, “Records are made to be broken” – Lake on Wales’ wait for a Wallabies win in Australia

There will be more high-profile two-Test series this summer, with Ireland taking on South Africa and England playing in New Zealand.

But the games in Sydney and Melbourne remain crucial for Australia and Wales, as ninth-placed teams in the world rugby rankings play tenth-placed teams.

The opposing camps have not yet reached rock bottom, but a clear downward spiral has become apparent recently.

There are striking similarities between Welsh and Australian rugby. Both nations have financial problems and the future of Welsh regions is uncertain. The Melbourne Rebels recently went bust.

The two nations are struggling at both domestic and international level and have enlisted the help of experienced, seasoned New Zealand coaches to turn their ailing situation around.

Wales itself has travelled 12,000 miles to prevent a catastrophic 2024.

Gatland led Wales to seven consecutive defeats and finished last in the Six Nations for the first time since 2003.

Captain Dewi Lake has stressed how desperate they are for a win to end their losing streak.

The hooker spoke of “making a few mistakes” and “bringing pride back to the shirt” after realising that people had “lost enthusiasm for the team”.

Wales' first win against the Wallabies in Australia in over 50 years will aid this process.

Familiar faces reunited

Image source, Getty Images

Image description, Opposing coaches Joe Schmidt and Warren Gatland both played for the same team in New Zealand

The reunion of the two experienced New Zealand coaches, who currently lead different nations in neighboring Australia, added to the excitement.

The two are former teammates, with Gatland admitting he thought Schmidt had retired after an outstanding international career.

Schmidt led Ireland to the top of the world rankings and then helped the All Blacks reach the World Cup final last year, which they lost to South Africa.

He was appointed by Australia in January to rebuild the team after Jones' turbulent tenure.

Schmidt tried to temper expectations by admitting that “he has never been so unprepared” and acknowledged that he is still getting to know some of the players, having only met them 12 days before the Wales Test.

He has already left his mark on the team by selecting only Australian-based players, with Will Skelton, Marika Koroibete and Samu Kerevi missing, while Mark Nawaqanitawase and Carter Gordon were lost to rugby league.

Gatland returned to Wales for a second term as head coach when he replaced Wayne Pivac in December 2022.

After his first twelve years, in which he took part in Six Nations and Grand Slam tournaments as well as two World Cup semi-finals, not everything went as planned.

The second time around, his record is just six wins and a worrying 13 defeats in 19 games, with Gatland taking over a side that had lost Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, Ken Owens, George North, Dan Biggar, Leigh Halfpenny and Louis Rees-Zammit.

Add to that the injury absences of Taulupe Faletau, Tomos Williams and Adam Beard, as well as the rested Josh Adams, Will Rowlands and Ryan Elias, and you get the young and inexperienced Welsh side that travelled Down Under.

New faces as the old guard disappears

video subtitles, Winger Hathaway deserves Wales debut, says Gatland

This unproven factor also applies to Australia. Both teams have been unrecognisable since September 2023, when Wales inflicted a record 40-6 defeat on the Wallabies – with only three surviving starters on either side from that World Cup night in Lyon.

Schmidt has added seven new internationals to his 23-man squad, the most Australian debutants in 44 years, leaving just five remaining from the team that played Portugal in October 2023.

This was Australia's last game, while Wales have been more active recently.

That schedule included a World Cup quarter-final exit to Argentina, five defeats in the Six Nations and last month's loss at Twickenham to world champions South Africa.

Gatland will continue to bring in new players this weekend, giving 20-year-old Gloucester winger Josh Hathaway his debut, while link-up player Ben Thomas and prop Archie Griffin will start for the first time.

The coach asks Cardiff centre Thomas to swap positions and try to fill the venerable Welsh number 10 shirt, while Mason Grady also continues in an unfamiliar midfield role, wearing the number 12 shirt.

It will be a poignant moment for Bath prop Griffin as he takes on James Slipper, the Wallabies' 135-cap opponent.

In a fascinating twist of fate, Griffin, whose parents are Welsh citizens, returns to the city where he was born almost 23 years ago.

Griffin and Gatland hope that the return will be a happy one and that dark clouds will not gather over the Wallabies on Saturday evening.