CARDIFF (UNITED KINGDOM) (AFP) –
Australia coach Michael Cheika insists he has no problem with his side being labelled underdogs for Saturday’s Test match against Wales.
Cheika and his team have endured an indifferent season, with just two wins from six in the Rugby Championship and just three victories from 10 starts overall.
“We don’t mind running as an underdog, don’t worry about us. We will enjoy that status,” said Cheika.
Despite their chequered recent form, Australia, boasting just 10 players who appeared in the last World Cup, have won their last 13 games against Wales.
There was a rare 21-18 success for Wales in Cardiff in 2008, but that has been followed by eight home losses, plus one defeat each in London, Auckland, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, with six of the reversals by five points or less as Australia turned the screw at the death.
“We have massive respect for Wales and you have seen the run they are on and where they are in the world rankings,” Cheika said in reference to the Welsh team rising to third in the world on the back of a six-match winning streak.
“That shows their quality, but we need to focus on ourselves.”
Australia go on to play Italy and England, with Cheika admitting that three wins on tour was definitely the goal and that their faltering season would be used as motivation.
“That is what we are here to do, no doubt,” he said. “I am not coming for anything less than that. That is what we want to do every game.
“Some of the pain and hurt we have felt this year will only help us. All the scars we collect, whether it is this game or the one after that or the 15 left until the World Cup final, will help us.”
– Long way off –
Australia will face Wales at Tokyo Stadium on September 29 next year in what many pundits reckon will be the World Cup Pool D decider.
But Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones played down any potential great ramifications almost 11 months away from the World Cup in Japan.
“It’s a long way off,” he said, conceding that “there’s a lot of eyes being moved around with certain games this weekend, but we’re concentrating on the 80 minutes rather than next year”.
Jones is the sole survivor from that 2008 Welsh victory over the Wallabies, but insisted: “Looking too far back you can get lost looking for answers, this is all about the 80 on Saturday.”
Wales kicked off their autumn series with a 21-10 win over Scotland last weekend, and coach Warren Gatland has made just three changes, retaining Gareth Anscombe at fly-half, with regular Dan Biggar and fellow British and Irish Lion Liam Williams relegated to an exceptionally strong bench boasting 180 caps.
Gatland, said Jones, “has made a point to a few of the boys about the calibre of player who can come on and make an impact”.
“The closer you get to Australia, the further you feel away. In 2012 I think it was 11 points across three Tests. We’ve got no excuse with the people we’ve got off the bench. The people who did that in the summer and against Scotland had a good game and I’m sure the people who will do that on Saturday will do a good job.”