Warren Gatland Predicts Warrenball – But Not From Wales

Warren Gatland expects Australia to give him a taste of familiar medicine on Saturday with a “pretty direct” approach from the Wallabies.

The Wales coach – who bequeathed the game ‘Warrenball, even though it’s a term he detests – believes opponents renowned for their back line intricacy will be more basic in their strategy in the opening Test of the autumn series.

Michael Cheika’s side are chasing a 13th successive victory over Wales and they will face a side containing three home Test debutants in wing Steff Evans, centre Owen Williams and flanker Josh Navidi.

Apart from their record against Australia since 2008, Wales have also not won the opening game of an autumn campaign for 15 years.

“Looking at the Australian team, I don’t think they’re going to be too worried about throwing the ball around,” said Gatland.

“I think they are going to be pretty direct.

“What is going to win Saturday’s game is the defence. They have a massive midfield and two direct wings. If we don’t tackle, it doesn’t matter how many times we attack.”

Seven of Wales’ Wallabies defeats during the last nine years have been in Cardiff, while a number were by low single figure margins, but captain Alun Wyn Jones is undeterred by such a losing run.

“When we toured out there [in 2012] we lost by something like seven points across the three Tests,” said Jones.

“I don’t know what it is, I wouldn’t say they are a bogey team. We have come very close to beating them, and in some games we felt we should have.

“It is not necessarily a curse.”

Navidi packs down alongside back-row colleagues Aaron Shingler and Taulupe Faletau, while British and Irish Lions Test full-back Liam Williams is on the wing as Leigh Halfpenny retains the No 15 shirt.

And there are three uncapped players among the replacements in Dragons prop Leon Brown plus Ospreys pair Owen Watkin and Sam Cross.

Cross, who has played just two games of professional 15-a-side rugby, featured in the Great Britain sevens squad that won an Olympic silver medal at Rio 2016.

Wales are without injured quintet Sam Warburton, Justin Tipuric, Samson Lee, Rhys Webb and George North.

Tipuric and Webb could be back in the frame for next week’s Principality Stadium appointment with Georgia, but prop Lee might take longer to recover from an Achilles problem.

Williams’ selection alongside fly-half Dan Biggar represents a shift of tactical emphasis by Gatland as he fields two midfield playmakers.

It is an approach that Gatland operated with considerable success on the Lions’ New Zealand tour earlier this year when Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell filled those roles, while England head coach Eddie Jones also employs such a system with great effect, pairing together Farrell and George Ford.

Gatland revealed he had studied Williams’ influence and effectiveness at centre, where he was utilised more often at his previous club Leicester than at his current club Gloucester who regard him primarily as an outside-half.

Gatland said: “We’ve looked at playing him at 12 and in terms of the stats when he was at Leicester he played seven games there and they won six of them.

“He’s played there at Gloucester and been successful so his win ratio is good. It’s his first start at home so it’s exciting for him. But what will win Saturday’s game is defence.”

Gatland, who reached the 10th anniversary of his reign as Wales boss on Thursday, added: “It’s a process over the next two years. We know when we have been together in World Cup campaigns just how competitive we have been.

“We should have made the final of the World Cup in 2011. We were decimated by injuries in 2015, but we were five minutes away from beating South Africa in a quarter-final.

“I just believe this team is capable of winning the World Cup, given their experience and age-profile in two years’ time. That is why we are trying to expose some younger players at the moment.”


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