Australia v Wales exact scoreline predicted as Test match almost too close to call

-Credit: (Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency Ltd)
-Credit: (Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency Ltd)

Wales face Australia on Saturday in their first match of a two-Test series Down Under.

Both teams are facing new eras and squad rebuilds, with Warren Gatland's men coming into the tour off the back of a disappointing Six Nations, while the hosts are no doubt still smarting from the humiliation handed out to them at last year's Rugby World Cup.

Wales beat the Wallabies 40-6 in France but this these matches are expected to be far tighter affairs.

Here are our score predictions from our expert writers...

Ben James: So many unknowns make this impossible to call

As the throngs of journalists from all over jostled towards the lifts in the Parc Olympique Lyonnais last September, a couple of English scribes got halfway to starting up a conversation with myself, before realising they didn't quite know what to say.

After Warren Gatland's side had trounced the Wallabies 40-6 in their World Cup pool clash, everyone watching on was a little speechless. And while I expected the opening salvo from these journalists to revolve around how good Wales were, the topic of conversation once they'd found their words was about how woeful Australia - and their old sparring partner Eddie Jones - had been.

That the Wallabies are favourites this week only serves to show just how long ago that surreal night in Lyon was. Just six of the 30 players who started that night will feature from the beginning this weekend.

With Joe Schmidt having replaced Jones in charge Down Under, the Wallabies shouldn't be anywhere near as awful as they were last year. There's a host of new faces and you know that a coach of Schmidt's calibre and style will be able to put some pieces in place with little time.

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Wales, traditionally in the last five or so years, have struggled with defending ball movement and attacking subtleties. They've been far happier going toe to toe with the brutality of the Springboks than any side that moves them around, so expect Schmidt to lean heavily on his three-phase strike plays to test that out.

The Welsh players seemed fairly relaxed about the work they'd done in training to stop all that, while Gatland was quietly pleased about Wales' up-turn in territory against South Africa compared to that wooden spoon campaign.

With the 10-12 axis of Ben Thomas and Mason Grady a touch unconventional on paper, the hope will be that they can do just enough to get Wales playing in the right areas.

The battle up front is equally fascinating. Both sides have debutants in the front-five and both will be quietly confident of getting the edge there.

Frankly, this one - with so many unknowns - is too close to call. It's worth remembering that Australia started that match in Lyon the better, but didn't take their chances. Wales did, and were then able to pull away convincingly after Australia had run out of other kitchen appliances to throw after the sink didn't work

The importance of that opening quarter will be huge to defining a Test series which, let's be honest, means far more to both nations than either is letting on.

Australia 29-25 Wales

John Jones: Wales to end losing streak - just

After a dismal Six Nations campaign and a losing streak that has now run to seven games, Wales head into their first game Down Under with a point to prove - but so do their opponents.

It’s all change for both sides, with just a handful of representatives from that famous night in Lyon in September set to take to the field in Sydney on Saturday, making this one incredibly tricky to call.

Both teams are in transition too, with this weekend’s match the first for Australia under Joe Schmidt, a coach of real calibre who will relish the opportunity to lift the Wallabies from the depths that they plumbed last year and is more than capable of doing so.

Wales are, however, a little bit further down the road with their rebuild and however painful the Six Nations were, Warren Gatland’s young side will be wiser for the experience with some green shoots emerging.

There were plenty of positives to take from their defeat to South Africa last month too, with a raw side really making the world champions graft with a physical first-half performance before the game ran away from them.

You wouldn’t expect Australia to come close to matching the dominance that the Springboks have in the scrum and at the breakdown, but with new caps in both packs, both sides will be competing to get that physical edge early on. That is sure to be a fascinating battle.

Wales were also guilty of not doing enough with ball in hand against the Boks, lacking any real attacking threat when in possession. It will be interesting to see the impact that the seemingly fearless new cap Josh Hathaway has on proceedings, while all eyes will be on Mason Grady as he starts at 12.

On paper, it’s really too close to call but the result of this one will ultimately come down to who can take their chances and put in an 80-minute performance. Neither have been Wales’ strong points in recent times but with a youthful squad eager to prove themselves - and get the monkey off their back - I can see them just about nicking it.

Wales 24-22 Australia

Steffan Thomas: This will be very tight but Wales can catch Australia cold

That Australia are overwhelming favourites with the bookies despite including seven debutants points to how far Wales have fallen since that epic night in Lyon nearly 10 months ago.

Wales are stuck in a rut having lost their previous seven Test matches, which included a first Six Nations Wooden Spoon since 2003 but at least they are battle hardened. If Welsh rugby has been put through the wringer in recent times so has the game in Australia, with one of its Super Rugby franchises the Melbourne Rebels folding.

This is a new era for the Wallabies who were dumped out of the Rugby World Cup at the pool stage for the first time in their history and they will hope a new coaching team, which is headed up by the world class Joe Schmidt and also includes one of the game's great innovators in Laurie Fisher and expert scrum coach Mike Cronn, can get instant results. But it won't be easy for the Wallabies who don't possess the same quality of player we are accustomed to seeing wear the green & gold jersey, while there are a number of players who have yet to prove themselves in the international arena.

You'd expect Australia's attack to test Wales' defence but this game will be decided up-front and at half-back. Wales have struggled at scrum time in the absence of the experienced Tomas Francis so there will be a big onus on Archie Griffin to provide a platform at the set-piece.

Gatland also needs the likes of Christ Tshiunza, Dafydd Jenkins, Taine Plumtree and Aaron Wainwright to at least gain parity in the collisions so that Wales can operate on the front foot. But Australia will also fancy their chances of getting on top up-front with the explosive Taniela Tupou, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and No 8 Rob Valetini powerful carriers, while Fraser McReight can be a real menace at the breakdown.

In truth there is not much to separate both sides in the forwards and it will likely come down to which pair of half-backs can hold their nerve. This is a huge game for Ellis Bevan and Ben Thomas, who have just three international caps between them.

Thomas has been in great form for Cardiff but has only started one game at outside-half this season whereas Australian half-backs Jake Gordon and Noah Lolesio are a little more experienced. But ultimately I think Wales are further ahead in their development whereas this is game one of a new era for the Wallabies.

It'll be very close but if Thomas manages the game well and can get a tune out of his outside backs then I think Wales might just edge this one.

Wales 25-21 Australia