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Rugby Union: Schmidt era to begin with early Welsh payback

Australia begin a new era this weekend as they face Wales in Sydney for the first Test match of Joe Schmidt's term in charge.

The Kiwi will be facing a very familiar set of foes, with compatriot Warren Gatland overseeing a Welsh side Schmidt knows everything about from his time as Ireland boss.

The Welsh have not won on Australian soil in 55 years and, after a poor Six Nations campaign this year, they will need to produce something out of the ordinary to prevent Schmidt making a winning start as Wallabies boss.

Wales are 5.50 to grab a sensational success at the Allianz Stadium, while Australia are as short as 1.14 to start this new dawn in winning fashion. Schmidt's new look side are 1.90 to give up a 12-point start against the touring Dragons.

. What: Australia v Wales
. Where: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
. When: 19:45 (AEST), Saturday 6th July 2024
. How to watch: Stan Sport
. Odds: Australia 1.14, Wales 5.50

New look for the Wallabies

Reds skipper Liam Wright is set to lead out the Wallabies against the Welsh in Sydney having been named captain by the new boss.

The 26-year-old has been a talisman for Queensland, despite his side falling shy of a Super Rugby Pacific grand final. He becomes the 89th player to skipper the Wallabies.

The blindside flanker joins Reds teammate Fraser McReight and Brumbies' Rob Valetini in the starting back row.

Hooker Matt Faessler earns his first Wallabies start, while Jeremy Williams will make his Test debut on Saturday night, combining in the second row with Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, who will play his first international since 2021.

NSW Waratahs captain Jake Gordon will combine with Noah Lolesio in the halves, their third time together in gold jerseys, while Reds duo Hunter Paisami and Josh Flook are the centres. Flook joins Faessler as the pair of starting debutants.

Tom Wright returns to the side at fullback, with Andrew Kellaway and Filipo Daugunu on the wings. Kellaway is 10.00 to get the first try.

Test centurion James Slipper will line up for his 135th appearance in the No.1 jersey and along with 50-cap Taniela Tupou at tighthead prop, is one of only two Wallabies starters with a half-century of caps.

Wallabies eager for payback

The Wallabies enjoy a vastly superior head-to-head record over Wales with 31 victories from their 46 total meetings in all competitions, including their last meeting on home soil, when Australia edged to a 20-19 victory back in 2012.

However, the most recent meeting of these rugby powerhouses didn't end well for Australia.

In fact, it didn't play out well at any stage, as Gatland's team dominated from the start at the 2023 World Cup pool stage meeting in Lyon.

They ran out with a record 40-6 win as the Wallabies contributed only a couple of Ben Donaldson kicks from the tee inside the first quarter of an hour to the scoreboard.

A similar outcome in Sydney looks unlikely, with Wales priced at 34.00 to win by a margin of 13+ points.

Wales' only previous win on Australian soil came in June 1969, in Sydney, when they triumphed 19-16 at the SCG.

Gatland saw South Africa ease past his makeshift Wales side with a five-try win at Twickenham last month.

The Test defeat was the seventh in a row for Wales, their longest stretch since losing eight successive games between 2012 and 2013.

Fast start anticipated

Schmidt has resisted the temptation to start with Tom Lynagh at fly-half, though it won't be a shock to see him on the field during the 80 minutes.

Wales were characterised by slow starts in the Six Nations of 2024 and Schmidt will want his side to heap early pressure on every facet of the visitors' game.

Only four of the Welsh XV named to start have more than 20 caps. Gatland suggested his squad have enjoyed 'a good week of preparations here in Sydney' upon naming his team but, nonetheless, there have to be some worries they are running into something of a lions' den.

In the Six Nations, Wales trailed Scotland 20-0 at half-time and Ireland 17-0 at the break. This hungry and motivated Wallabies group will look to impose similar early pain on the Welsh.

Australia are 1.44 to enjoy the half-time/full-time double result, while the Wallabies are 1.83 to overcome a -5.5 point first-half handicap.

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