Warren Gatland will go into the Six Nations with Wales just where he wants them – mocked or ignored or unfancied.
The autumn series may have been saved from negative equity on Wales’ part by a narrow victory over South Africa, but that has convinced few people that Gatland’s team are anything but outsiders for the tournament that begins in eight weeks’ time.
The bookies have Wales as fourth favourites behind England, Ireland and Scotland, with only France and Italy fancied less.
But Gatland will not mind that at all. His best achievements have tended to come against European teams who did not rate him or his side too highly.
Against Australia and New Zealand, the obvious inferiority has led to a complex. But against the likes of England and Ireland it has often been a motivator, rather than an inhibitor.
That is why Gatland has welcomed the praise being showered on Scotland, who visit Cardiff in the opening game of the tournament on February 3.
“A lot of people are talking up other teams so, from our point of view, long may that continue,’ said Gatland.
“The Six Nations is our competition. It will potentially be the closest Six Nations for a long time.
“We have been a little but limited in this campaign with the amount of injures we have picked up, but I was pleased for a lot of the players out there.
“We will hopefully get a few players back from injury to strengthen the squad.’
This is classic Gatland. Wales are labelled as underdogs in order to take the pressure off and place the spotlight on others.
The November Tests are framed as development games, where results are unimportant so that after the standard defeats to the All Blacks and the Wallabies attention can be turned back to snapping at the heels of England, Ireland – and now – Scotland, also.
The victory over South Africa may not quite fit into this interpretation, but only the seriously deluded would argue that Wales have overtaken the Springboks by going forward. Instead, while Wales have stood still, the Boks are still travelling backwards.
The problem for Wales in positioning themselves as outsiders for the Six Nations is that it is now nothing new. No-one really fancied Wales last season and they lived down to expectations by finishing fifth.
England and Ireland have also spoken about aiming towards the next World Cup in their autumns, but as an outcome of winning rather than a replacement for it.
Wales were without 10 injured players by the end of the series and Gatland’s argument is that the four games have been about developing depth and exposing new players to international rugby.
With the depth – created by the likes of Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Navidi and Owen Williams – has come variety that will be seen in the New Year, according to the coach who spent last season on sabbatical with the Lions.
“It’s about mixing and matching. Against France you would play a little bit differently than you would against some of the other Six Nations teams.
“Good teams have the ability to do that and pick different players to suit what they want to do.”
“Given where we are in terms of the amount of injuries and the inexperience we put out, I think we are in a good place at the moment. We have worked on the way we want to play and looked at some different combinations, a 10-12 slightly different combination as well. So I am pleased where we are.
“We have kept a lot of ball in hand in this campaign and it was just about us being a bit smarter. At this level, you’ve just got to make sure you mix it up.
“You can’t just keep playing and playing and playing because [opposition] teams get front line [and come up in defence] and you end up running up your own backside.
“Look, we have learned a lot in terms of the style and the different ways we are trying to play. Good teams are able to do that and have that ability to pick different players to match that way.
“Like I said, we are happy with this autumn.”