Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has called Warren Gatland a “class act” but claimed he enjoyed the attention he received in New Zealand this summer.
In what might be viewed as an attempt at mind games before Saturday’s Test between Wales and Australia, Cheika has paid tribute to Gatland’s achievement with the Lions.
But rather than re-affirm Gatland’s recent infamous claim that he hated the media scrutiny he received in his homeland, Cheika has suggested the opposite may have been true.
“Warren Gatland has had an unbelievably good season,” said Cheika, the former Leinster head coach.
“The Lions were excellent in New Zealand and I thought they managed it really well. He is a class act but at the end of the day it comes down to the sets of players: Saturday is a holiday for the coaches, it is the players’ day.
“All the other stuff like the previous record goes out of the window because once the whistle blows it is 0-0. When the final whistle goes, someone will have more points than the other, hoping it won’t be a draw.
“The idea is that we excel in those 80 minutes and that’s it.
“I think Warren would have enjoyed the attention he got from the New Zealand media.
“I do not know him very well, but he looked like he enjoyed it.
“We know better than anyone how hard it is to play New Zealand three times in a year.
“I know the Irish guys who were out there and he did a great job. Now it is a new challenge and he is facing up to New Zealand again in this series. North v south are always big matches and we are definitely looking forward to Saturday.”
Cheika is no stranger to noteworthy statements on opposition coaches and at times in the past he has clashed with New Zealand’s Steve Hansen.
But he appears to have taken Gatland at his word with the claims from his opposite number that Wales are seeking a change in style by picking Owen Williams at inside centre, rather than Jamie Roberts.
Cheika added: “One thing I have learned doing this is to expect everything. Anything can happen on any given day.
“It is the first game of the series for Wales and they did not play with their full team in June because of the Lions. I am sure there will be a change of some sort.
“Owen Williams is a fine player with a good kicking game and footwork. He will threaten our defence, not just with his ball-playing but he is a good runner.
“It may be a bit different to how they have set up before but the guys who have played in that jersey before could play; Jamie Roberts.
“It will be a challenge for us defensively as it always is against Wales with Biggar and another playmaker and the running threat of Jonathan Davies, an excellent player and was when I was coaching at Leinster.
“He has always been a threat in Europe and he is more than ever, as he showed getting the man of the series with the Lions. That says it all about him.”
Cheika has made three changes for Saturday’s Test at the Principality Stadium.
Half-backs Bernard Foley and Will Genia, who both missed last weekend’s emphatic victory over Japan in Yokohama due to illness and a calf muscle problem, respectively, make their returns.
And there is also a start for Reece Hodge, who replaces wing Henry Speight, as Australia seek a 13th successive win against Wales.
Karmichael Hunt, meanwhile, is the sole change among Australia’s replacements after overcoming a neck complaint.
“A really good thing for us is we’ve got options around how we can set up because Karmichael can go to full-back or centre, Samu (Kerevi) can go 12 or 13, Hodge can play pretty much anywhere now, and (Kurtley) Beale can play 12, full-back or fly-half if we need,” Cheika said.
“There was a lot happening last week. We lost a lot of players between that Barbarians game (in Australia) then the tour starting (in Japan).
“If you look at our team, a lot of players haven’t got much experience playing in the northern hemisphere, so it’s good to have some experience around them this week.”