Wales lock Luke Charteris expects different challenge against Japan
Luke Charteris believes Wales will face a different type of challenge on Saturday when they host Japan for the first time since 2007.
And the towering Wales lock has hailed progress made by teams like Japan, Georgia and Romania in driving what he feels is a closing of the gap between rugby union's tier one and tier two nations.
Japan rocked the rugby world to its core last year with a stunning World Cup victory over South Africa, and although the Brave Blossoms are now under a new coaching team led by former New Zealand All Black Jamie Joseph, they remain an exciting work in progress.
Further proof of that came with a hard-fought victory over Georgia in Tbilisi five days ago, while Japan can also reflect that they won the last time Wales were their opponents, although it was a considerably under-strength Welsh team due to the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour.
"You have got to say they (Japan) have gone on again from two or three years ago," Charteris said. "The boys know the challenge that awaits - it will be a tough game again.
"As a squad, we watched their victory over South Africa in the team room, cheering them on.
"The beauty of the World Cup is that you face teams you do not meet very often.
"Probably Scotland were quite lucky to get Japan on a short turnaround (at the World Cup), otherwise that game would have been more interesting.
"We know it will be tough on Saturday, even though they have changed since the World Cup with a new coaching team and the next generation of players. They like to play a high-tempo game and will be different to sides we are used to facing.
"Japan, Romania, Georgia, these are the teams who are as a whole certainly closing the gap between tier two and tier one nations. It is definitely getting a lot smaller."
Heading into this weekend's round of autumn internationals, northern hemisphere nations hold an unfamiliar advantage over their Rugby Championship rivals, with Ireland having beaten world champions New Zealand, England brushing off South Africa and Wales toppling Argentina.
Ireland face a quickfire All Blacks rematch on Saturday, while Scotland host Argentina and Australia are in France, suggesting scope for further European success.
Charteris added: "Every time you play these teams, I don't think you can say the gap between south and north is any particular thing. It depends on who is playing who.
"There are big gaps in the southern hemisphere between Australia, South Africa and New Zealand - New Zealand are significantly ahead of those two teams - so I think it is the rest of the world trying to catch up to them.
"Ireland have shown it is very do-able, putting a superb performance in, and England have done it now against Australia (in June) and South Africa, and we've had a good win against Argentina.
"It's very hard because you are all at different stages and different points of the season, which does have a bearing on it, but certainly the more you play these teams and the more you play these games, then hopefully the more confident you get and the better you get at it."
Wales' interim head coach Rob Howley is due to announce his team for the Japan clash on Thursday, with an opportunity widely expected in the match-day 23 for uncapped 18-year-old Ospreys wing Keelan Giles.
Fly-half Gareth Anscombe and prop Nicky Smith also appear in the frame to be involved, while exciting prospects Sam Davies and Cory Hill could gain further chances to showcase their ability at Test match level.