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Gatland: Wales must beat big guns

Warren Gatland accepts that Wales need to "get across the line" in their pursuit of a major rugby prize that has eluded them for six years.

Not since November 2008 and the 11th game of head coach Gatland's current 82-Test reign have Wales floored a southern hemisphere heavyweight.

On that occasion it was Saturday's opening autumn Test opponents Australia, beaten 21-18 just eight months after Wales were crowned RBS 6 Nations champions in Grand Slam fashion.

Five of nine subsequent defeats against the Wallabies have been by four points or less, while they twice lost by a point to South Africa during the same period.

"We are pretty aware we have been knocking on the door and put ourselves in situations - perhaps not against the All Blacks, but definitely against South Africa and Australia - on a number of occasions to win games," Gatland said.

"We had a pretty honest debrief when we first came in (to prepare for the autumn series).

"We looked at the second Test in South Africa (Wales lost 31-10 in Nelspruit five months ago) and hopefully the things we can learn from, make sure that learning takes place and we are a bit more clinical when we get that opportunity again, if it does arise.

"Once you do it the first time, it becomes easier the second and the third time. We have been knocking at the door, but we've got to get through it and get across the line and nail one of those victories."

This weekend's clash is given added emphasis by the fact that Wales and Australia will lock horns during next year's Rugby World Cup in a fearsome pool that also includes highly-fancied host nation England and often-dangerous Fiji.

The Wallabies have arrived with a new coach - former Leinster supremo Michael Cheika - and found themselves dodging fall-out from Kurtley Beale's recent brush with Australian rugby authorities that earned the full-back a five-figure fine.

"A lot of people have been talking about what's happened with Kurtley Beale and those sort of things, and does that make them more vulnerable?" Gatland added.

"With Australians, it makes them stronger.

"They thrive on any adversity and any criticism, and we are expecting a really tough game on Saturday.

"I have got a massive amount of respect for what Michael (Cheika) has achieved. He is the only coach who has won a European Cup and a Super Rugby title.

"What he did with Leinster was incredibly impressive, and what he has done with New South Wales in terms of turning them around in a pretty short time.

"I think by his own admission it is going to take a little bit of time, but having watched him and seen him operate, it won't be that long.

"He plays a really positive brand of rugby, he gets his point across pretty succinctly and he is pretty honest with the players, and they appreciate that.

"In 10 months' time, when they turn up for the World Cup, I think they will be a real outfit to contend with."

Starting on Saturday, Wales will play 12 Tests before their World Cup opener against Uruguay next September, and Gatland has made no attempt to hide the fact that rugby's global spectacular tops his agenda.

"We've 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 differently in this campaign and we will in the Six Nations, almost like World Cup camps in terms of long-term preparation and planning.

"It is something I think we have been pretty bold and courageous to do. Our whole focus in the next 12 months has to be getting out of our group in the World Cup. That has to be our primary focus.

"Although we want to do exceptionally well in the autumn and in the Six Nations - and those are important games for us in making sure we perform well - the long-term objective is getting out of that group and making the (World Cup) quarter-finals."

Gatland, meanwhile, has confirmed that all of Wales' France-based players - Leigh Halfpenny, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, Mike Phillips and Luke Charteris - will be available for the autumn finale against South Africa on November 29.

Lock Charteris has been released back to Racing Metro this week after a deal was done with the Paris-based Top 14 club that will see them reciprocate in terms of the Springboks clash.


From Belfast Telegraph