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Shane Williams: Quest for Autumn success starts now

The Rugby Championship is a tournament I’ve always enjoyed watching. Its brilliant rugby, played in great conditions and it involves some of the best players in the world.

For me, this year’s competition is vitally important and I’m talking here from a Northern Hemisphere perspective.

If I was Warren Gatland, or any of the senior Wales players or coaches for that matter, I’d be watching the action over the next few weeks like a hawk. It’s time to get the inside track.

In the next two years or so, Wales – not to mention England, Scotland and Ireland – are going to meet the best sides in the Southern Hemisphere on a regular basis.

We’ve got the November Tests later this year and before you know it we’ll be preparing for the next World Cup in Japan in 2019.

From a Welsh point of view, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa will all arrive in Cardiff in the next few months. Those games are an absolutely cruucial chance to get into a winning habit. Psychologically, it’s vital we believe we can beat these teams.

That’s why we need to get to know our opposition inside out. What better way to do that than by watching them in action? The Rugby Championship provides the perfect opportunity to do exactly that which is I’m really interested to see what will happen in the tournament.

I know some people might think it’s too early to start planning for the autumn. But in my view, it’s never too early. In the modern-day game, preparation is everything.

Of course after the British & Irish Lions series earlier this summer, we know pretty much everything we need to know about New Zealand. I’m sure the All Blacks will go on to win the tournament and we’ve seen them in action enough to be well aware of what they bring.

The Lions might have drawn with them 1-1, but Steve Hansen’s outfit are still the best in the world.

What I am interested in is Australia and South Africa. Let’s be honest, how much do we know about the Wallabies and the Springboks? Not very much, I’d suggest.

Both teams are in a bit of a rut, with a number of new players and coaches who are unsure how to proceed in terms of their style of play. That makes them an unknown quantity and potentially dangerous too. What Wales need to do is make sure they’re not caught cold this November.

I’m sure Warren will be doing his homework on these teams. Since his Lions duties have come to an end, he’ll have turned his attention to Wales but if I was him, I’d be making a few trips to watch some games in the next few weeks.

This is an absolutely vital time for Wales. We’re in a bit of a transition period now with a lot of younger players coming through alongside some of the more senior guys like Sam Warburton and Alun-Wyn Jones. We need to give ourselves every chance to succeed against the best in the world and to do that you have to know your opposition inside out.

While the Lions were on, South Africa were in action against France and it was hard to know what to make of them really. Springbok rugby isn’t what it was and their traditional strengths have maybe changed a little. Then we’ve got Australia. They’re a bogey side of ours and it’s time that changed.

Australia are in Wales’ group at the 2019 World Cup and as a player I had my fair share of heartbreak against them. The third-place play-off defeat at the 2011 World Cup was a tough one to take and there were many others as well.

From my own experience, I know how important it is take on the Southern Hemisphere teams knowing you can beat them. Mentally, it can break you if that’s not the case.

The Wales players who were in the Lions squad this summer won’t have an issue with that, but it might be different for others; guys like Sam Davies, left, Ellis Jenkins or Steffan Evans.

For them to beat Australia and South Africa in November – and possibly the All Blacks too – could be nothing short of vital. It may well end up being the shot in the arm Welsh rugby needs with 2019 in mind.

The Rugby Championship will define what shape these teams will head north in and that’s why I’ll be watching with interest. I’m hoping Warren and Wales will be doing likewise.

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