WALES v AUSTRALIA (Saturday, KO 2.30)
MATTHEW J Watkins – one of the few Welsh-men to taste victory over Australia in recent years – is calling on Sam Warburton’s men to salvage pride by having a real crack at the Wallabies on Saturday.
The Pontllanfraith-born former Newport Gwent Dragons and Scarlets back played in the centre when Wales triumphed over Australia in 2005’s 24-22 thriller.
He believes Wales can turn things around and avoid an autumn series whitewash after humiliating defeats to Argentina, Samoa and New Zealand.
Watkins, who retired from playing last year and is now cutting his coaching teeth at Cross Keys, said: “It’s going to be tough for Wales to win this weekend but they can still definitely do it.
“They played much better in the second half against New Zealand last week and if they can follow on from that then you never know.”
Watkins, who won 18 caps between 2003 and 2006, hopes Wales play with more style this weekend.
“I don’t think people will mind if Wales just have a crack at Australia on Saturday,” he said.
“Wales’ rugby this autumn hasn’t been very easy on the eye and they’ve been reluctant to play from deep and been guilty of some aimless, non-contestable kicking.
“They don’t want to do that against Australia because the looser the game is, the better it is for them.
“I think Wales have gone into their shell a little bit this autumn.
“Rugby is all about momentum and if you haven’t got that then you’re in trouble.”
Watkins is a big admirer of Australia’s runners whom he rates as highly as the All Blacks backs and believes Wales have their work cut out to stop them.
“I think the Wallabies backs are up there with New Zealand in terms of sharpness,” he said.
“Australia are great to watch and have very good footballers in Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale and Berrick Barnes.
“They’ve got great versatility along their back line with players able to play in a number of positions – they have some excellent, natural players.”
That rare Welsh win over the Wallabies in 2005, one of only three in the last 25 years, is one of Watkins’ career highlights and one he looks back on with fondness.
The former Newport centre had a fine game and that encounter seven years ago has parallels with this weekend’s match.
Grand Slam holders Wales managed to beat the Aussies and avert what would have been a disastrous autumn series after heavy defeats to South Africa and New Zealand and a lucky 11-10 win over Fiji.
The home side, coached by former Dragons chief Mike Ruddock, won thanks largely to a dominant scrum and a spectacular Shane Williams try.
“It was a great game and a great occasion, a memorable match, the first time Wales had beaten Australia in 18 years since the 1987 World Cup,” Watkins said.
“It was a great achievement although I remember having a torrid time in defence – Australia’s back line was so sharp and they had some great running lines.
“It was a hugely enjoyable game to play in and my opposite number Lote Tuqiri was one of the best players I’ve ever played against.
“I felt like I was marking two men at times that day!”