Gone are those hymn-filled days when Wales would be allowed to skip into a match against a southern hemisphere giant dreaming of an upset. Not only do the bookmakers expect the Dragonhood to beat Australia on Saturday but their coach expects them to go on beating them and their Tri-Nation compadres.
"We want to get to the next tier of being one of the top three or four teams in the world," declared Warren Gatland at the team announcement yesterday. "We realise that will require hard work but we are ambitious. These are the sort of the games which we have to go into handling the tag of favouritism and fulfilling the expectations placed on us. That is the next progression for this team."
Under the Kiwi, Wales have won just one of their seven Tests against the southern hemisphere's big trio and that was in this corresponding fixture last year. "This coaching regime has something like a 66 per cent overall success rate, and we have played against more southern hemisphere teams than any other Welsh regime," pointed out Gatland. "We are playing New Zealand, South Africa, Australia six times in the next 12 months – we aren't running away. We haven't been good enough on two occasions to beat the All Blacks, but we've played South Africa three times, and on two of those occasions we had chances to win."
Gatland is steadfastly refusing to read too much into the dramatic events of Murrayfield on Saturday, when the Wallabies' Matt Giteau missed an injury-time conversion to win the match against Scotland. "That's probably the worst result for us," said Gatland. "Australia should not have lost – they created so many opportunities... if that game was played 99 times out of 100 they would win. My experience of Australian teams is when they are in this situation and have taken a bit of criticism, they come out – with all guns blazing."
"They will be gunning for us but this Wales squad hasn't feared Australia. There is still improvement left in us and we feel we need to go up a couple more gears if we are to achieve what we want against Australia, but the players feel they are starting to get into their stride.
Jonathan Davies kept his place in Wales' midfield after his pleasing display against Argentina on Saturday. Gatland was expected to recall Tom Shanklin to partner Jamie Roberts after he recovered from the broken nose suffered against Samoa the previous weekend.
"We haven't got a lot of options behind Tom," said Gatland, explaining his reasons for sticking with Davies. "It was a young centre combination that went OK, and we wanted them to have another chance. It's important going forward that if we pick up injuries we have some alternatives."
Dwayne Peel is promoted from the bench to make his first start of the series. The Sale scrum-half injected some notable impetus when coming on for Gareth Cooper against the Pumas. It will be the first time Peel has partnered Stephen Jones, the long-time No 10 at the Scarlets, for 18 months.
Wales team to play Australia (Millennium Stadium, Saturday, 5.15pm): J Hook (Ospreys); L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), J Davies (Scarlets), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), D Peel (Sale Sharks); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), P James (Ospreys), A-W Jones (Ospreys), L Charteris (Newport Gwent Dragons), A Powell (Cardiff Blues), M Williams (Cardiff Blues), R Jones (Ospreys, capt). Replacements: H Bennett (Ospreys), D Jones (Ospreys), J Thomas (Ospreys), D Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons), M Roberts (Scarlets), A Bishop (Ospreys), T James (Cardiff Blues).Reuse content