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Cuthbert return boosts Wales

Wales have seen their hopes of claiming a first major southern hemisphere scalp since 2008 boosted by big-game try poacher Alex Cuthbert's rapid return from injury.

The British and Irish Lions wing suffered a hairline fracture of his ankle less than six weeks ago, and he admitted: "At first, there was no chance of making the autumn Tests".

But 23-year-old Cuthbert, who has scored nine tries in 18 Tests for Wales and claimed winning touchdowns in RBS 6 Nations title-clinching victories over France and England during the past two seasons, will line up against Millennium Stadium visitors Australia on Saturday.

Cuthbert is one of five changes from the team beaten 24-15 by South Africa earlier this month, being joined by centre Owen Williams, fly-half Dan Biggar, prop Rhodri Jones and lock Ian Evans.

"I thought I could run it (injury) off, but after 20 minutes I knew I couldn't," said Cuthbert, who was hurt during Cardiff Blues' victory over Heineken Cup holders Toulon on October 19.

"I had scans and stuff, and there was a hairline fracture, but I am grateful to make a full recovery.

"The adrenalin and playing in that stadium is all I have been thinking about - getting back out there with the guys, playing against one of the best teams in the world on that pitch and putting in a performance for myself, the fans and my family."

Cuthbert is among 11 Lions in the Wales starting line-up on Saturday involved on this summer's Australia tour that culminated with a 2-1 Test series triumph masterminded by Warren Gatland.

Wales also have the matter of eight successive defeats against Australia to address, having not beaten them for five years, while they last toppled South Africa in 1999 and New Zealand 46 years before that.

"I took a lot of experience from the summer and grew up as a guy as well," Cuthbert added.

"It's the norm playing Australia now. We have played each other enough times, and we know what we have to do. It will be a big battle and a big game.

"He (Gatland) gave me my chance in the first (Lions) Test, and I'm glad I took it. I was glad to be out there and to learn from all the experiences.

"I played and scored in the first Test. That was the first time I had beaten a southern hemisphere team, so I was happy with that.

"Scoring (for Wales) on a regular basis, my confidence is always going to be high.

"We've been playing well over the last couple of years. The guys have been putting me in space, and I've been doing my job as a wing and finishing things off."

While the Lions factor has repeatedly cropped up already this week, Wales boss Gatland said: "We haven't even spoken about that. That is gone now.

"They (Australia) are a completely different side to what we met in the summer. There has been no mention of the Lions by us, and I am pretty sure the Australians haven't mentioned it either.

"There are a lot of key players for them who have been regulars who aren't playing on Saturday - the likes of (Berrick) Barnes, (James) O'Connor and (Digby) Ioane, and one or two others as well - so it is quite different to what we've faced in the past.

"They made a number of changes against Scotland and were good enough to win, and they were excellent against Ireland the previous week.

"We know it is going to be tough, and hopefully both sides are going to go with the attitude of trying to play some quality rugby."

Gatland said the fly-half call between Biggar and Rhys Priestland had been "really tight", while he also revealed that second-row forward Evans was recovering from a knock.

"He hasn't taken much part in training this week," Gatland added. "He will probably do some full-contact stuff on Thursday.

"He probably has got other things on his mind at the moment. His wife is due (to give birth) today, so we are just giving him a little bit of space."

Ryan Jones will provide second-row cover off the bench. Wales are without injured locks Bradley Davies and Andrew Coombs, while Luke Charteris has returned to Perpignan as Saturday's Test falls outside the International Rugby Board's autumn window and the French club do not have to release him.

Five Wales players have been released back to their regions ahead of the Australia match and this weekend's RaboDirect PRO12 programme.

The players announced by the Welsh Rugby Union are Cardiff Blues scrum-half Lloyd Williams and prop Scott Andrews, together with Scarlets back Jordan Williams and hooker Emyr Phillips, plus Ospreys forward James King.


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