Wales star Jamie Roberts knows from first-hand experience that professional sport can be a “pretty brutal” existence.
Mentally and physically, Roberts has been through the mill this year. There was the high of a Six Nations title and Grand Slam last season, but also crushing lows that included a serious knee injury, being knocked out against Argentina and seeing Wales suffer six successive defeats prior to tackling Millennium Stadium visitors Australia today.
If the Wallabies win, Wales will drop to ninth in rugby’s world rankings and be bracketed as a tier-three nation for the 2015 World Cup pool draw on Monday.
This time 12 months ago, the dust had barely settled on their finest World Cup performance since 1987 when they reached the semi-finals in New Zealand and would arguably have beaten France had captain Sam Warburton not been sent off after 17 minutes.
“It is a complete rollercoaster,” Roberts said. “I remember being 18-19 years old at the [Cardiff] Blues and Martyn Williams [former Wales flanker] saying to me what a rollercoaster of emotions rugby is. And that hasn’t rung more true than this year, really. You go from a high to a low and in professional sport it’s pretty brutal.
“But it is so important we keep working hard and continue the upward curve from our second half performance against New Zealand last weekend.
“We want to finish the autumn on a high and there are no people more determined to do that than the players.”
Wales’ autumn of discontent has so far produced successive losses to Argentina, Samoa and the All Blacks – scoring just three tries and conceding eight – while also being hit by a crippling injury list.
A series that began only three weeks ago ends tomorrow with Wales being unable to call upon George North, Adam Jones, Alun-Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate, Bradley Davies, Aaron Jarvis, Richard Hibbard or Josh Turnbull. Roberts is still standing despite suffering concussion against the Pumas and then being forced off inside 20 minutes of the All Blacks clash due to a hip injury.
For Australia, Irvine-born Brendan McKibbin is named on the bench after flying into join the squad this week. If he takes the field, McKibbin will become the 42nd player used by coach Robbie Deans during the Wallabies’ 15 Tests this season.
Wales: L Halfpenny (Cardiff); A Cuthbert (Cardiff), J Davies (Scarlets), J Roberts (Cardiff), L Williams (Scarlets); R Priestland (Scarlets), M Phillips (Bayonne); G Jenkins (Toulon), M Rees (Scarlets), S Andrews (Cardiff), L Reed (Cardiff), L Charteris (Perpignan), A Shingler (Scarlets), S Warburton (Cardiff, capt), T Faletau (Nragons). Subs: K Owens (Scarlets), R Bevington (Ospreys), S Lee (Scarlets), R Jones (Ospreys), J Tipuric (Ospreys), T Knoyle (Scarlets), D Biggar (Ospreys), S Williams (Scarlets)..
Australia: B Barnes; N Cummins, A Ashley-Cooper, B Tapuai, D Mitchell; K Beale, N Phipps; B Robinson, T Polota Nau, B Alexander, K Douglas, N Sharpe (capt), S Higginbotham, D Pocock, W Palu. Subs: S Moore, J Slipper, S Kepu, D Dennis, M Hooper, B McKibbin, M Harris, D Ioane.
Referee: W Barnes (Eng).