Wales to do battle with Australia, England brace themselves for the All Blacks

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Updated: November 30, 2012

Autumn International rugby comes to an end this weekend however not before the heavyweights of the South have exchanged final blows with the heavyweights of the North.

Australian legend Nathan Sharpe plays his 116th and last Test match at the Millennium Stadium against Six Nations Champions Wales. Sharpe has been a giant of the game for the Wallabies for some years now and after being convinced by Robbie Deans to delay his retirement until the season ending tours he will finally walk away after their encounter against the Welsh.

The Wallabies would be looking to finish their long season, in which they’ve played an incredible 16 Tests, on a high ahead of a well-earned break, the resumption of Super 15 rugby and the 2013 tour of the British and Irish Lions. Saturday’s game will be the sixth between Wales and Australia in 13 months, the Wallabies winning all previous five encounters, including the third-place play-off at the World Cup and a closely-fought three-Test series on Australian soil in the summer. If that record wasn’t bad enough, Wales must beat Australia to remain in the top eight seeds for Monday’s 2015 World Cup draw in London, teams in the top two bands of four receiving a more favourable group. Should Australia win it would be their eighth consecutive win against the Welsh since 2009. And if that margin is by more than 15 points it would also mean that they leapfrog South Africa to finish the year as they started ranked second in the world.

David Pocock comes back into the team after a long injury layoff. Pocock is an outstanding fetcher and is bound to win many battles at the breakdown.

The defending Six Nations Grand Slam champions are on a six-match losing streak and have so far been trumped by Argentina, Samoa and New Zealand in their November matches, while the Wallabies bounced back from a surprise mauling in France to beat England and Italy.

Wales made four changes, all in the pack, to their run-on team, coach Warren Gatland notably bringing in Scott Andrews for injured tighthead prop Aaron Jarvis, while lock Ian Evans replaces Bradley Davies, who was ruled out after being felled by the now-banned Andrew Hore in Wales’ 33-10 defeat by the All Blacks last weekend.

Head to head the biggest showdown will be the openside battle between Sam Warburton and David Pocock, two masters of the tackle area and two players that know how to push the envelope. It would also be interesting to compare Rhys Priestland with Kurtley Beale in the tactical battle at No.10.

At Twickenham, World Champions the All Blacks sign finish yet another successful season against England. The All Blacks head into their final test of the year on a 20-match unbeaten run and having won their last nine internationals against England. Indeed so long ago was England’s last win over New Zealand, a 15-13 success in Wellington nine years ago, it came a few months before they won the 2003 World Cup.

Dan Carter returns to action after missing the 33-10 win over Wales due to injury, while for England Owen Farrell makes a start due to the absence of Toby Flood, a forced swap that could be a blessing in disguise for the home team, as the young Farrell is definitely the future for England at 10.

England are still searching for a first win over a major southern hemisphere nation under coach Stuart Lancaster after last week’s 16-15 loss to South Africa followed a 20-14 defeat by Australia earlier this month.

New Zealand Captain Richie McCaw leads his side out again, and will be a constant threat at the breakdown as he so brilliantly is every game. McCaw who is up for the IRB player of the year award again, is quite simply the greatest loose forward the game has seen, and if England harbor any hopes of an upset Chris Robshaw has to keep him quiet. New Zealand have world class quality all over the park, and some even warming the bench. Ma Nonu and Conrad Smith in midfield have a marvelous understanding in both attack and defence and against Tuilagi and Barritt for England, this match up should be explosive. Alex Goode, Chris Ashton and Mike Brown will give England pace and attacking options from deep however my thoughts are they will be used more in defence against the best and most variable attacking side in the game. Israel Dagg if cut loose will cross the line as he so often does, and with a backline led by Carter making the decisions, the task looks daunting for England come Saturday.