Rob Howley believes Wales have gained a lot from the recent tour of New Zealand.
Wales assistant coach Rob Howley expects World Champions South Africa to bounce back against New Zealand in their second outing of the 2010 Tri-Nations Series taking place this weekend in Wellington -- despite believing New Zealand are currently the best team in the world.
Howley and his players will be lying in wait for each of the three southern hemisphere super powers in turn at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium this autumn, with the WRU's pre-registration system for tickets for the Series, which also sees 2011 RWC Pool D opponents Fiji come to town, already in operation at www.wru.co.uk/tickets.
The Welsh coaching team are keeping more than a keen eye on what is happening on the other side of the world this summer.
Wales have just returned from a two-match tour of New Zealand which saw the All Blacks victorious in both Dunedin and Hamilton, after the Springboks also notched up a win in Cardiff just a week before the Welsh boarded their plane to the home of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
But, despite losing their summer games, Howley has taken heart from elements of their showing in all three matches and he believes putting their performances in context with the All Blacks demolition of South Africa last week shows that his side are not far away from the top sides in World rugby.
"New Zealand are the best team in the world at the moment and they were a match for South Africa's physicality last weekend, but expect the Springboks to bounce back with an improved performance." said Howley.
"They are the reigning world champions after all. They have been in this situation before where they have lost to the All Blacks and they know how to turn it around, I expect they will present a different proposition next weekend.
"As we know ourselves and proved in the summer there is nothing better for a side when you lose in that manner than to be able to pick yourself up again and have another crack at it a week later.
"There's only really the Tri-Nations and on summer tours where you are able to do that and it adds to the psychological motivation and preparation for the next game.
"Although it is early days in their competition and no doubt there is lots yet to happen, but watching how the All Blacks dominated the Springboks last weekend did tell us that we feel as a coaching team that we are not that far away ourselves.
"If you consider our performances this summer and certainly during that second Test in Hamilton, in the second half in particular, when I think we gained a little more respect for what we are trying to achieve.
"We'd like to think that we are not that far off, we have learnt a lot and obviously there are areas for us to work on, but it is only by playing against the best teams in the world that you learn about yourselves and give yourselves the opportunity to improve."
Wales face Australia in the first match of their Autumn Series on Saturday 6 November seven days before the Springboks are in town (both Kick-offs 2.30pm). Fiji are up next on Friday 19 November (7.30pm), before the series climax against the All Blacks on Saturday 27 November (5.15pm).
In a gruelling schedule Wales will be looking for at least one Southern Hemisphere scalp as well as wanting to lay down a marker against Fiji and the Springboks ahead of their Rugby World Cup Pool D meetings next year, but Howley is resisting the temptation to target any particular game.
"Australia always seem to time it right and peak in a World Cup year and these November Tests will be an integral part of their preparation," said Howley.
"We¹ll be watching the Tri-Nations intently and we'll know from that what kind of form they are in, but regardless of the fact we have them up first there will be no chance of us catching them cold, they are always so well prepared and will be especially so with the World Cup approaching.
"They will be a huge challenge for us and it is up to us to make sure that we are ready for them. There's no doubt we have learnt a lot about New Zealand rugby this summer and we really look forward to playing them once again in our last game of the Autumn Series. To play against Australia, South Africa and Fiji prior to the All Blacks is a mouth-watering prospect, but everyone of them will also undoubtedly be tough, physical challenges.
"There will be nothing like the Springboks match and the clash with Fiji to focus our minds in terms of the countdown to the Rugby World Cup beginning in earnest.
"Both teams are in our pool in the World Cup and we will find out a little more about each other in November. We obviously have recent history with Fiji in World Cup terms and they will pose a huge physical challenge.
"It will also be a opportunity to feel each other out, the result will have little bearing on what follows when we meet in New Zealand, but saying that neither side will want to lose.
"It has long been the stated philosophy of this management team to play the best sides in the world as regularly as possible in order to improve ourselves and this coming Autumn campaign we will certainly be doing that, but our main focus this Autumn Series will be about winning rugby."
Tickets for the three Saturday matches at the Millennium Stadium in November - against the Wallabies, the Springboks and the All Blacks in turn - are priced at £25, £40, £60, £65 and £70, to watch Wales take on Fiji on Friday 19th November fans will be charged £10 (concession), £20 or £25.
To pre-register click the website link at www.wru.co.uk/tickets which invites fans to join a priority list for access to any tickets not taken up by the WRU member clubs and debenture holders.
Millennium Stadium hospitality packages are also available now priced from £99 plus vat per person at www.millenniumstadium.com or call 08443 722 722 to speak to someone about hospitality.
Wales Autumn Series Fixtures 2010:
Wales v Australia, Millennium Stadium, Saturday 6th November, Kick-off 2.30pm
Wales v South Africa, Millennium Stadium, Saturday 13th November, Kick-off 2.30pm
Wales v Fiji, Millennium Stadium, Friday 19th November, Kick-off 7.30pm
Wales v New Zealand, Millennium Stadium, Saturday 27th November, Kick-off 5.15pm
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WRU TV follows Wales' RWC training squad on day one of their camp in North Wales. The squad were greeted to an official welcome in Colwyn Bay and then headed for an afternoon of team building at ZipWorld