Dan Lydiate has admitted that he anticipates a nail-biting few days before the Wales team to play Australia next weekend is revealed by coach Warren Gatland.
Wales have not beaten the Wallabies since 2008, losing eight games in a row, although half of those defeats were by three points or less. And the stakes are high once more, with Wales desperate to collect an overdue major southern hemisphere scalp before beginning their RBS Six Nations title defence in February.
Lydiate might have been an automatic choice in Gatland’s back row not so long ago, but the rapid emergence of Ospreys openside flanker Justin Tipuric has upped the ante.
In the last two games that Tipuric has packed down alongside captain Sam Warburton and No.8 Toby Faletau, Wales destroyed England and Argentina by record margins.
Gatland will surely face a strong temptation to go with that breakaway trio next Saturday, although blindside flanker Lydiate’s world-class qualities as a destructive tackler and ball-carrier put him firmly in the frame.
“There is always massive competition for back-row places,” Racing Metro forward Lydiate said. “With Sam playing six against Argentina, ‘Tips’ at openside, there’s Toby at eight and Ryan [Jones] had a good game against Tonga [on Friday night]. I wasn’t too happy with my game against Tonga.
“You try and put yourself in a position where you think people will run at you, and they don’t, so you end up a lot of the time running around covering space. Sometimes everything clicks, sometimes it doesn’t, and you get frustrated.
“We will most definitely all be biting our nails when it comes to selection for next week. That’s the thing with ‘Gats’, you never know which way he is going to go.”
Wales endured a frustrating evening against Tonga, scoring early tries through centres Owen Williams and Ashley Beck, but then failing to register another point in the remaining 55 minutes.
There were, though, 11 changes from the side that crushed Argentina, with star players such as Warburton, Faletau, hooker Richard Hibbard, prop Gethin Jenkins and scrum-half Mike Phillips not involved, with Hallam Amos, pictured, getting fast-tracked into the side.
“Tonga were tough opponents and turned us over a lot, but we had quite a young side out,” added Lydiate, following the 17-7 win.
“We have been in this situation before – in 2010 when we drew with Fiji, and Samoa last year, when we lost – so it shows we have progressed.
“Australia is a massive Test for us. We know our history against them, and we will definitely be putting the work in this week.
“Australia will be coming to us wanting to finish their year on a high, and they are going to be a massive challenge. They are a lot more clinical, and there seems to be more synergy about them now with their players being more together.
“They beat Ireland convincingly, but our momentum is building. The boys who played against Argentina put in a good performance, and we will be taking that into this week.”
Wales are likely to start with at least six of the Lions team that smashed the Wallabies 41-16 in the deciding third Test just over four months ago – seven, if Lydiate makes the cut – and he is relishing a possible reunion.
“This isn’t the Lions, it’s Wales against Australia and we’ve lost our last eight games against them,” he said. “They have all been close, but they’ve won every time and that is what counts, so their confidence is bound to be high. But we’ve got a lot of boys who were part of that great Lions tour. Everyone is looking forward to it – it’s the last Test before we go back to our regions and clubs.
“It felt surreal when we won with the Lions, a massive achievement, and for me personally, after what I went through to get there with my injury. Everyone talks about the Lions, but it’s not easy, four nations coming together. What made the tour was everyone getting on so well. We soon became best mates, and when we got on the field everyone fought for each other.”