Wales vs Australia: Wales must end hoodoo before the World Cup

Warren Gatland takes on the Wallabies seeking only his second Tri-Nation scalp as Welsh coach

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The Independent Online

Warren Gatland fully expects the floodgates to open when Wales finally end their southern-hemisphere hoodoo.

But first his side need to overcome the psychological barrier, millstone, call it what you will, and defeat one of the Tri-Nations sides for only the second time in his mostly successful seven-year spell in charge of the national side.

The New Zealander has been keen to instil in his players the sense that it is  not a mental issue to overcome, more a physical one. Gatland said the “psychological barrier has been created [by others]”.

Eluding to Wales’ poor record against Tri-Nations sides, he added: “That’s a challenge for us to accept. We are aware of it and, once you do it the first time, it becomes easier the second and the third time. We’ve been knocking at the door but we’ve got to get through it and get across the line and nail one of those victories.”

To gain such a scalp is crucial. It is more than just the November internationals at stake but the wider issue of next year’s World Cup with Wales in the “pool of death” with Australia and England.

As such, tomorrow’s match against the Wallabies is something of a World Cup warm-up and, with that in mind, Gatland and his coaching staff have tried to replicate a tournament ethos in the past two weeks of training.

“We have really looked at the long-term plan in terms of this campaign, the Six Nations and the World Cup,” he said. “We have run things a little bit different and we will run things a little bit different in the Six Nations. It’s almost like World Cup camps in terms of long-term preparation and planning.

“Our primary focus over the next 12 months has to be getting out of our group in the World Cup. Although we want to do exceptionally well in the autumn and Six Nations and those are important games for us, the long-term objective is getting out of that group and making the quarter-finals.”

History is against Wales in that regard. They boast just 14 victories in 95 games against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and only three of those have come in two decades of the professional era.

Rugby’s big three boast six World Cups between them so it is understandable that in the build-up to the Wallabies encounter, Gatland has set his mind to Super Rugby mentality.

“In international rugby, you’re looking at an average of about 75 metres per minute covered, which is about the same as Super Rugby and the average in regional rugby is about 55-60 per minute,” he said. “That’s why our training is geared to that high-speed tempo so we don’t get a shock on Saturday that we’ve experienced in the past.”

The key experiment in terms of selection is George North at centre, caused in part by injuries to Jonathan Davies and Scott Williams. North has been talked about as a possible centre in future and Gatland hinted that may yet be the case.

“There are a lot of class players who started on the wing and moved into the centre,” he added. “There’s two prime examples in Tana Umaga and Ma’a Nonu, so it’s an option for us. The combination with Jamie Roberts last season against France was pretty good and the last time he moved into the centre against Australia he caused a lot of problems.”

Gatland has the luxury of having North available for all four international matches with a release clause in his club contract, while the squad’s French-based contingent are all available for selection. The only players he will likely have to do without in the final November Test against South Africa are the England-based trio of Richard Hibbard, Paul James and Bradley Davies.

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