Cardiff (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Psychological one-upmanship will be up for grabs when Wales host Australia on Saturday in a dress rehearsal of what has been billed a pool-deciding match at next year’s Rugby World Cup.
The two sides will clash on September 29, 2019, at Tokyo Stadium in what many reckon will be the game that decides the winner of a Pool D that also includes Fiji, Georgia and Uruguay.
So there is all to play for at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, not least to boost confidence levels and test squads’ strength in depth.
Warren Gatland’s Wales come into the fixture on the back of a 21-10 victory over Scotland, their sixth win on the trot.
The Wallabies, coached by Michael Cheika, won just two of their six Rugby Championship matches in an indifferent season, but have racked up 13 straight wins over the Welsh since 2008.
Gatland, who made three changes to his side but kept Gareth Anscombe at fly-half ahead of Dan Biggar, said the Scotland game had been the perfect aperitif to larger fare.
“In the past, we haven’t been great starters in the autumn,” the New Zealander said.
“It’s tough when you haven’t been together for four months and you normally come up against either an Australia, South Africa or New Zealand, who have just come off a Rugby Championship. It is not the easiest thing in the world. Plus, there is a lot of expectation.
“The fact we have that first game under our belt, we have a win, we have some confidence, hopefully we’ll be a lot better from that performance last week to take on Australia.”
– Woeful Wales record –
Gatland actually oversaw the 2008 victory over Australia, as part of his first autumn series since taking over as Wales coach following the 2007 Rugby World Cup. But he has since seen his side go down 13 times, on many occasion by a mere handful of points.
“We’re disappointed with the run of losses we’ve had against them,” he acknowledged.
“But if look at how close a lot of those games have been, I think there’s been something like seven points the difference between us and them on average over that period, less than a score in it on most occasions. They have all gone right down to the wire.
“Unfortunately, in some of those we have conceded points in the final minutes having been ahead.”
Looking ahead to the World Cup in Japan, Gatland added: “This game is important for the next 12 months. It is not the most important, the pool game at the World Cup is going to be the most important one.
“This will definitely be important from a confidence point of view and yes it’s been well-documented that they’re under different sorts of pressures than we are, but the pressure for us is being favourites and being able to handle it.”
Cheika made four changes to his starting XV from the one that lost most recently to New Zealand.
But the Australian was adamant that the match was a “great opportunity for us to take their scalp”.
“Every game is a Test match,” Cheika said. “Don’t look at the things further down the road, just have a look at what you have to get right for Saturday and play your best. It is a great opportunity for us. We love playing at the Principality Stadium, a great stadium.”
Wales, he added, are “always very competitive across the board. Gatland is one of the best coaches in the world and he has had success with the (British and Irish) Lions and Wales. He has got a very well organised, well drilled team and that is why they are at the position they are”.