“Risk taker” and Warren Gatland” are not words usually associated with each other, but picking George North at 13 against one of the most potent back lines in world rugby is certainly a huge risk. North’s footwork in defence has never been the best and since his long concussion related layoff he’s understandably looked more than a little gun shy when it comes to effecting big collisions instead going for the arm tackle around the shoulders which won’t stop Kuridrani or Folau if they pop up in his channel (Kudrani’s footwork in defence is often questionable too so Wales will be hoping that North gets his hands on the ball early and often).
I’m a big fan of what Gatland has done for this game though, the phrase “cut loose” has been bandied about all week and in Dan Biggar Wales have got one of the best 10’s in International rugby when it comes to playing head’s up rugby and if Gareth Anscombe can be involved as first receiver in attack then Wales could really challenge the Australian defence. Obviously how effective Wales’ attacking play will largely be influenced by the success of the forward pack ahead of them and with the omission if Gethin Jenkins and Dan Lydiate the ability of the forwards to turnover ball maybe slightly impeded, but with Samson Lee & Luke Charteris starting Wales will be looking at attacking Australia’s set piece play.
The one potential problem with relying on set piece ball as a mainstay of a game plan is that referee’s decisions can be vital in any teams set piece success and in Craig Joubert both teams may find themselves battling against some strange interpretations come scrum time in particular. Australia seem to be carrying their Rugby Championship form into this World Cup and in Michael Cheika they have a certified genius for a head coach (he’s a self made millionaire, speaks 4 languages fluently. Aside from the fact that he’s collected trophies for fun wherever he’s coached). The one thing Wales do have in their favour is that they appear to be as well conditioned as the Aussie’s, if not more so, so they should be able to stick with them for the full 80 minutes and not face away as badly as England seemed to last week.