Warren Gatland issues challenge to Welsh players

Warren Gatland
Warren Gatland

Wales head coach Warren Gatland wants his players to show they can handle the pressure of being favourites for Saturday's clash against Australia.

Despite suffering 13 successive losses to the Wallabies, Wales are fancied in many quarters to end that run this weekend.

While Wales are on a six-match winning run against all opponents this year, Australia have claimed just three victories from 10 starts in 2018.

"We are disappointed with the run of losses we've had against them," Gatland said.

"But if you look at how close a lot of those games have been, I think there's been something like seven points, the difference between us and them on average over that period.

"This game is important for the next 12 months. It is not the most important, the pool game at the World Cup (next year) is going to be the most important one.

"This will definitely be important from a confidence point of view, and yes, it's been well-documented that they are under different sorts of pressures than we are, but the pressure for us is being favourites and being able to handle it.

"The one thing about Australian teams is that you write them off at your peril. They are competitors in whatever sport.

"They realise the pressure that is being put on them in terms of coming up to the northern hemisphere and having a successful autumn campaign. That is pretty evident that is the message that is being delivered to them.

"We are aware of that, but we can only control what is in front of us and our own preparation."

Gareth Anscombe has retained the Wales fly-half role ahead of Dan Biggar, while Worcester wing Josh Adams also starts, with Biggar's fellow British and Irish Lions back Liam Williams joining him on the bench.

If Biggar gets on this weekend it will be only his second Wales appearance as a replacement in his last 41 Tests.

In two other changes from the side that beat Scotland 21-10 last weekend, prop Tomas Francis replaces Dillon Lewis and lock Adam Beard is preferred to Cory Hill.

Reflecting on the fly-half decision, Gatland added: "It wasn't about being a close call. We know what a quality player Dan is, we know what his strengths are.

"It was sending a message to Gareth that we didn't want to just pick him for one game and then put him on the bench.

"For some players, feeling like they are getting an opportunity to get a few games under their belts, we will get a better performance out of them rather a player coming in, feeling he has just one chance and he tries to over-play and ends up making mistakes because he is trying to impress too much.

"It wasn't really a difficult selection decision for us.

"It is not about creating a press hype about a big decision about leaving Dan Biggar out, it is about us thinking about what is important for the team now and building depth in the squad and thinking about the next eight to 10 months.

"We've looked after him (Biggar) this week because he's had a little bit of a back strain, so he hasn't taken a full part in contact.

"We know the capabilities of Liam Williams, and Josh getting an opportunity against a quality side like Australia gives us another chance to look at him.

"It is trying to be consistent and also sending a message to the players who went in the summer (to America and Argentina) that their performances will be rewarded, and it is about creating depth and competition within the squad as well."


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