The Wales head coach composed a brutal training camp for his 33-man squad ahead of the first match of the Dove Men Series against Australia on Saturday, which began with a debrief after the agonising 31-30 defeat to South Africa in June, when they again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
They [Australia] thrive on any adversity and any criticism, and we are expecting a really tough game
“We are pretty aware we have been knocking on the door and put ourselves in situations,” Gatland said.
“Perhaps not against the All Blacks, but definitely against South Africa and Australia – on a number of occasions – to win games.
“We had a pretty honest debrief when we first came in to camp.
“We looked at the second Test in South Africa 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.”
With New Zealand and South Africa joining Australia and Fiji heading to Cardiff this month, Gatland’s charges will get another three attempts to finally get a win which has eluded them for six years since a 21-18 win over the Wallabies in November 2008.
The last nine meetings between Wales and Australia have all gone the way of the southern hemisphere side, with five of those defeats being by four points of fewer. The records against South Africa and New Zealand are far worse.
With Wales in a Rugby World Cup pool of death with Australia, England and Fiji, this autumn is the last chance that they will get to face them before next September and, of the big three, Australia are seen as the easiest target as they come into the match off the back of a surprise defeat to Argentina in the last round of the Rugby Championship, a bitter late defeat to New Zealand in Brisbane, and upheaval of Michael Cheika’s arrival as head coach following Ewen McKenzie’s departure last month.
Although we want to do exceptionally well in the autumn and in the Six Nations… the long-term objective is getting out of that group and making the quarter-finals
“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.”
Aside from the obvious recent record, there’s another good reason to temper any expectations of an obvious Wales win.
In Cheika, they have a coach who may be short on international rugby experience, but has done what no other has in winning a major title in both hemispheres, with Leinster in 2009 and the New South Wales Waratahs earlier this year. It’s an achievement that has not gone unnoticed by the Wales head coach.
“I have got a massive amount of respect for what Michael has achieved,” he said.
“He is the only coach who has won a European Cup and a Super Rugby title. What he did with Leinster was incredibly impressive.
“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.
“I think, by his own admission, it is going to take a little bit of time, but it won’t be that long. In 10 months’ time, when they turn up for the World Cup, I think they will be a real outfit to contend with.”
Next year’s Rugby World Cup is very much on the Kiwi’s mind with just 12 Test matches before they face Uruguay in September , and the preparations – as with this year’s summer tour – have been designed specifically to prepare the players for what they’ll face in the pool stages in 10 months’ time.
“We’ve really looked at the long-term plan in terms of this campaign, the Six Nations and the World Cup,” he added.
“We have run things a little differently in this campaign and we will in the Six Nations, almost like World Cup camps.
“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 quarter-finals.”
After all the preparations, it could be that Wales’ best chance of a win over one of the big three will be the last match on 29 November against South Africa.
Both countries will have played three matches by that point, but Wales will be boosted by having all of their France-based players available, while the Springboks are expected to lose half a dozen players, including star winger Bryan Habana and lock Bakkies Botha.
There’s the small matter of avenging a 2-0 series defeat five months ago too.
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