The midfield battle will be as defining as the one up front in the Test between Wales and the Wallabies at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
They don't come much bigger than this. George North against Tevita Kuridrani – an immovable object, an irresistible force. It's a test within a Test, and one that Wales will need their hulking wing-cum-centre to win.
North's switch to centre comes after Jonathan Davies was ruled out through injury. It could prove an inspired move by coach Warren Gatland, who is seeking just his second victory over southern hemisphere opposition in 24 attempts. North can provide the impetus, and could well be the man to stop the rampaging Kuridrani, who followed up a strong Rugby Championship with a devastating performance against the Barbarians at the weekend.
North comes into the Test season brimming with confidence having scored four tries for the Saints against the Ospreys in the European Champions Cup last month, his second hat-trick of the season. A physical freak in the contact, North has shown his abilities against the Wallabies in the past.
North's fireman lift on Israel Folau is perhaps the defining moment of the British & Irish Lions tour Down Under and a perfect example of what will be required if the Welsh are to finally break their duck against southern hemisphere opposition. He's no slouch on attack either.
Gatland will be pleased to be able to call on a number of players who missed the June Tests against the Springboks. Talismanic captain Sam Warburton returns to lead the side, while Leigh Halfpenny is a world-class talent who will add another dimension to Wales' kicking game. He's opted for Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar as his preferred halfback combination, with Mike Phillips and Rhys Priestland offering cover from the bench.
Michael Cheika has done some slight tinkering for his first Test in charge as Wallabies head coach. Rookie flank Sean McMahon will make his Test debut after an all-action performance against the Barbarians, while Ben McCalman will fill in for the injured Scott Higginbotham at the base of the scrum.
Reds duo Will Genia and Quade Cooper have earned a recall via the bench. Uncapped Western Force prop Tetera Faulkner is also set to make his debut after being named among the substitutes.
It's been six long years since Wales last beat one of 'the big three'. Wales have played Australia four times since, with their combined losing margin over that period sitting at just 12 points. They have shown an inability to get over the line, most recently against the Springboks in Nelspruit.
It'll take something special to end the years of hurt, and in North they've got an exceptional talent, and one that has shown himself a match-winner in the past.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Wallabies 26, Wales 10, Drawn 1
In Wales: Wallabies 14, Wales 8, Drawn 1
LAST FIVE RESULTS
2013: Wallabies won 30-26 (Cardiff)
2012: Wallabies won 14-12 (Cardiff)
2012: Wallabies won 20-19 (Sydney)
2012: Wallabies won 25-23 (Melbourne)
2012: Wallabies won 27-19 (Brisbane)
NORTH'S STATS THAT MATTER
5 – The number of tries he's scored against the Wallabies (in nine matches)
8 – The number of tries he's scored this season (in 10 matches)
20 – The number of tries he's scored for Wales
Wales – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 George North, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Paul James.
Subs: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Gethin Jenkins, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Mike Phillips, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Cory Allen.
Wallabies – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Leali’ifano, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Saia Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper.
Subs (one to be omitted): 16 James Hanson, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 James Horwill, 20 Will Skelton, 21 Matt Hodgson, 22 Will Genia, 23 Quade Cooper, 24 Rob Horne.
Photo: Matt King/Getty Images