Cardiff – Wales might be the bookmakers’ odds-on favourites for Saturday’s Test match against Australia, but coach Warren Gatland has warned about writing off the “fully loaded” Wallabies.
In his first autumn campaign, in 2008, after he had taken over as Wales coach, New Zealander Gatland guided his team to a rare victory over Australia in Cardiff.
Since then, however, there has been a streak of 13 losses to the southern hemisphere team.
And Gatland was keen to play down expectations, with his side on a six-match winning streak and Australia only having won two of their six matches in the Rugby Championship.
“The one thing about Australian teams is that you write them off at your peril,” said the former Waikato hooker.
“They’re competitors in whatever sport. They realise the pressure that is being put on them in terms of coming up to the northern hemisphere and having a successful autumn campaign.
“That is pretty evident that is the message that is being delivered to them.”
Gatland added: “We are aware of that, but we can only control what’s in front of us and our own preparation and look forward to us building over the last eight to 10 months.”
Australia coach Michael Cheika made four changes to his side for the Principality Stadium clash, Gatland saying his counterpart had picked a “pretty strong team”.
“I think they’ve picked their strongest team,” he said.
“They’ve made a few changes, but I think it’s a sign of respect and one that this Welsh team have earned over the years.
“Teams used to be comfortable putting out second string sides against Wales, they don’t do that anymore, they come fully loaded and Australia are fully loaded for Saturday.”
Gatland admitted that Saturday’s game could well be decided at the breakdown, with Australia fielding two of the world’s leading jacklers in Michael Hooper and David Pocock.
“We’re very conscious of that area of the game,” he said. “We know the threat of Hooper and Pocock on the ball.
“We need to make sure we have very limited separation between the ball carrier and the player cleaning out. We have been working on that and hopefully we can make another step up.
“I thought our contact work was very good last week (in the 21-10 victory over Scotland).
“So we need to make sure those aspects of our game are good.”
Cheika insisted that his team’s recent record over Wales was not relevant.
“Every game is played on its merits,” he said.
“If you want to find a pattern, you can find one anywhere. Wales have had a few wins in a row and are up to third in the world, which is really good for them.
“They are in top form and it will be up to us to show how we play the game.
“I will say this is as good as I have seen us come to Europe in terms of conditioning in the last few years. We are pretty hungry after an indifferent season and there is a really good feeling in the camp.
“Everyone has been training hard and there has been a bit of niggle. It’s been good – I’ve enjoyed it.”
15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Nicky Smith
Substitutes: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Liam Williams
15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Sefa Naivalu, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Scott Sio
Substitutes: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Sekope Kepu, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Ned Hanigan, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Matt To’omua, 23 Jack Maddocks