Wales hone in on skillset after NZ mauling
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Wales coach Rob Howley has admitted the team's crushing June whitewash at the hands of the All Blacks had been a wake-up call.
New Zealand ran out comprehensive 3-0 series winners over the Welsh (39-21, 36-22, 46-6) and carried their imperious form into the Rugby Championship, which they completely dominated, wrapping up the title with two rounds to play.
"We have done things a little bit differently," acknowledged Howley when asked if Wales' approach to the November series of four matches had been different, with Australia first up on Saturday.
"After New Zealand, for us it was a huge learning curve for players and coaches.
"We have tried to increase our intensity and tried to man-manage our players so we are running less distances and making sure the high-speed metres are quicker and sharper," said Howley, in interim charge with Warren Gatland seconded to the British and Irish Lions.
One aspect of the game that has been targeted was basic skills in a bid to narrow the seemingly widening gap between the free-flowing New Zealanders and the rest of the rugby-playing world, the former Wales scrumhalf said.
"We've certainly worked on a lot of skills in training, and we will continue to do so," he said. "New Zealand are setting the standard in world rugby at this moment in time."
Wales' stand-in captain Gethin Jenkins, a mobile loosehead prop soon to be 36, also admitted that the tour had been an eye-opener.
"One of the things we learnt from the summer [June] and the way the game is going in general, everyone needs to be comfortable on the ball," said the veteran who will earn his 127th cap against the Wallabies.
"We have been doing a lot more skills in the week, and working on that under pressure.
"We need to have the confidence and the ability to do that work on the field on a Saturday, and not perhaps go into our shells."
Australia coach Michael Cheika insisted Wales would offer stiff resistance as they looked to snap an 11-match losing streak to the Wallabies.
He also played down the significance of Australia's victory over Wales in the pool phase of last year's World Cup when the Wallabies held off wave after wave of attack despite being down to 13 men.
"I've well and truly forgotten about that," he said. "If you start thinking about those things when you're still coaching, you'll soon be retired!
"You've got to think about what's next, not what's behind you. That's what we've been doing. We've been going on a bit of a campaign to reinvigorate our squad and our base of selection, the players who are competing for positions and slowly but surely that's starting to happen."
Australia, ironically like Wales, head into Saturday's match with just three Test wins in the last 11.
England handed the Wallabies a whitewash in June and they also suffered a record 6-42 home defeat by the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship, in which they managed to finish second.
"The quality of our playing and our training is getting better," Cheika maintained. "We've got a lot of players who are single digit-Test players.
"Eight or nine of last week's 15 could be single digit. We know that's tough right now and in a schedule of 15 Tests of top-eight teams, this was a year that will make us and create the character this team will have for the future."
Comparisons with the Australia team that made the World Cup Final a year ago were also misplaced, he said.
"Obviously it was a lot more experienced and with a lot more established, polished players. Guys like Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Matt Toomua, Mat Giteau, Drew Mitchell.
"There's a lot of guys from that team who are no longer around and some guys from that team who are out of the selection.
"You can see we've made a decision about how we're going about building our national team. How that relationship thing goes back with our state teams as well, we're working hard on that.
"No more whining and moaning about we haven't got enough depth, and we're getting players pinched here or there. This is our world, let's get on and make it the best we possibly can."