Wales captain Sam Warburton faces one of the sternest tests of any Welshman this weekend – stopping Australia’s skipper David Pocock (Image | PA)

1. New Zealand

2. Wales

3. England

4. Australia

5. South Africa

If results go the way of Warren Gatland’s side, then those could be the World Rankings come Monday. Suggest that to any Welsh fan this time last year, after a seven-match losing streak followed by yet another disappointing Six Nations, and they’d have laughed at you. A place in the top four is worth a top seeding in the 2015 World Cup draw that will happen later this year. Quite apart from that, being ranked above England is something every Welsh fan craves.

However, that second place is still a dream until Wales reach out and grab it. Despite fourth place at the World Cup and a Six Nations Grand Slam, Wales are still ranked fifth in the world because they have failed to beat top ranked teams when it matters. They have not won against the big three of Australia, South Africa or New Zealand for 12 matches despite some truly heartbreaking close calls.

Records are there to be broken and Wales will fancy their chances. Their young squad have grown in quality with every game and they will want to put one over on a side that edged out two close matches against them last year. They have been able to name nearly a full-strength side for the first test, with the average age incredibly being under 25.

Australia have had far from a perfect build-up to the game. Injuries in domestic rugby have tested their strength in depth and the supposed ‘easy’ warm-up game against Scotland saw an experimental side humiliated in a scrappy 6-9 loss. With defeat to the team who finished bottom of the Six Nations already in hand, what odds on a defeat to the team who finished top?

Wallabies coach Robbie Deans has made nine changes from the team that lost to Scotland, with some big names returning to the fray. Australia are weakened by injuries, but they still have players of the very highest class. Adam Ashley-Cooper, Digby Ioane and Will Genia can change a game on their own and they will have the swaggering arrogance that comes with a history of success.

If Wales believe that they are the equals, even the betters, of Australia, then the match is there for the taking. But Australia have been written off before and Wales talked up before. This will be a defining moment for this young Welsh side. Now all that remains is to see if they have the temperament to grasp it.

Weak links:

Youngster Rob Horne is full of potential but short on international experience (Image | TheAustralian.com.au)

Australia will want to use their undoubted quality out wide to punish Wales. However, a lot will depend on 22 year old outside centre Rob Horne. Undoubtedly talented, but questions remain over his ability to translate that to the top level, especially when the pressure is high.

For Wales, the team is experienced, capable, young, fit and ready to take on the world. This could be a great Welsh team, but the weak link for them is in their heads. If Australia take an early lead, will that belief last or will it be business as usual for Wales against a top side.

Strengths:

Scrum-half Will Genia will need to take the game by the throat. His Super Rugby team have not been a roaring success this year, but the half-back has the star quality to lift those around him and turn this game to Australia.

George North has had a phenomenal impact on the international scene and 10 tries across 21 caps is an incredible return for a 20 year old. The left wing’s pace and power will be an asset against the inexperienced Cooper Vuna and Wales could use a try or two from “Big George” to help them believe.

New faces to keep an eye out for:

Rugby league convert Cooper Vuna will make his debut on Saturday, in for the injured Joe Tomane. A mercurial winger who can be terrible and brilliant in the same game, Australia will be hoping to see rather more of him attacking than defending.

There are no inexperienced players in the Welsh side as such, but Scott Williams will be hoping to impress from the start. The Scarlets centre has been in and out of the team for his 12 caps so far and he will hope to impress enough to keep his place when Jamie Roberts returns from injury.

Prediction:

The Welsh have flattered to deceive on many occasions, with the great red dawn always being just around the corner. Australia always have the ability to pull a performance from nowhere and it’s impossible to count them out because they never believe that they are. However, Wales won’t get a better opportunity that this to take an important victory. If they can’t take it, then they will be doomed to underachieve.

Wales by 8.

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