Shaun Edwards has urged Wales to improve their ranking to avoid a tough World Cup draw.
Skipper Sam Warburton has been ruled out of Wales’ opening autumn game against Australia on Saturday, with the Cardiff Blues flanker returning to his region to get game-time this weekend following a neck injury.
But Wales have identified home games with Australia, Argentina, Japan and South Africa as a means of improving on their current fifth-placed ranking ahead of the 2019 World Cup draw in Tokyo next May.
New Zealand currently lead the way in the World Rugby rankings with England second, Australia third and South Africa fourth.
The highest four ranked teams come May will be the top seeds at the 2019 World Cup and should, in theory, present them with an easier path to the knockout stages of that tournament.
Wales have special motivation to be as seeded as high as possible as they slipped to ninth place in the rankings just before the 2015 World Cup and ended up in the same section as Australia and England.
And, although Wales eventually qualified from that group by finishing above hosts England, defence coach Edwards said: “It’s about six or seven teams vying for those top four spots in the world rankings.
“We’ve only been in that top four 4% of the time since the world rankings came to fruition 15 or 16 years ago.
“So if we can push our way into the top four that will be a big effort from our boys, and that’s what we’re aiming to do.
“That would be mission accomplished with the World Cup draw on the horizon.”
Wales have failed to beat Australia since 2008 with the Wallabies winning the last 11 matches between the two countries.
Those games have often been settled by a handful of points, but Australia’s indifferent summer form has raised the prospect of a Wales side coached by Rob Howley in the absence of British and Irish Lions boss Warren Gatland putting an end to that losing run.
But Edwards warned: “They have had some criticism over the summer but they came second in the Rugby Championship.
“At the moment New Zealand are obviously number one by a distance, but the rest of the competition they basically won.
“So what I’ve tended to do looking at Australia’s form is to watch the games when they’ve not played New Zealand.
“People talk about their two sevens, but they have other outstanding players other than [Michael] Hooper and [David] Pocock.”
Warburton’s failure to recover from the injury suffered playing for the Blues has opened the door for Ospreys flanker Justin Tipuric to start against Australia.
Wales will wait on full-back Liam Williams and lock forward Jake Ball and naming a captain in Warburton’s absence, with the team announcement pushed back 48 hours to Thursday.
“Liam was in a boot last week, it did look serious, but we’ll wait until the last minute with the medics,” Edwards said.
“We’re hopeful he’ll play, but he’ll definitely play some part in the series over the next month.
“Jake has started light training, so we’ll see if he’s available for selection later in the week.
“Sam will go back to the Blues to get some game time under his belt, but I’m a big fan of Justin Tipuric.
“Our defensive system is very reliant on people having speed and Justin really helps our line speed when he plays.”
Edwards confirmed teenage wing sensation Keelan Giles would not play against Australia but could possibly win his first cap later this autumn.
The 19-year-old, who has been called up to train with the Wales squad ahead of the autumn internationals, has scored eight tries in four matches for the Ospreys.
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Edwards urges Wales to improve World Rugby rank
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