TOKYO, 27 Sep - Wales coach Warren Gatland believes Australia’s four changes for their pivotal Pool D game shows how much respect his side have earned on the international stage.
While Gatland, whose side beat Georgia 43-14 in their opener, has named an unchanged starting XV for the game at Tokyo Stadium on Sunday, his Australia counterpart Michael Cheika has reshaped his line-up, with only one change enforced.
Cheika has recalled the experienced pair of Will Genia at scrum-half and Bernard Foley at fly-half as they look to counter the threat posed by Wales - and especially the boot of their fly-half Dan Biggar.
"I think it’s a sign of respect," said Gatland of the Australia team, who have given winger Adam Ashley-Cooper, above, his 120th cap as replacement for the banned Reece Hodge.
"That’s how far we’ve come as a team over a number of years. I don’t think this was always the case with Wales.
"Teams probably wouldn't consider our attacking threats or any threats at all. We've got two great sides out there and hopefully it's a great game of rugby."
Wales were briefly world No.1 in August, having previously enjoyed a 14-match winning run that included a third Grand Slam under their Kiwi coach.
Gatland knows the winners of Sunday’s game should go on and top the pool and potentially avoid tricky games against England and holders New Zealand in the knockout stage.
But Gatland, who leaves his job after the tournament, says his focus is on building on the 9-6 win against the Wallabies in Cardiff in November 2018 that ended a 13-game losing run against them.
"We have not really looked too far ahead. If you do get out of the group all quarter-finals are going to be pretty tough," he said.
"It is about taking one game at a time and trying to build and create momentum. We feel as if we are a team who are capable of doing that - the longer we go in tournaments, we feel as if we get better and more cohesive.
"It was a pretty good start in the first game. It is going to be a tough Australian team, but we have had some close battles in recent times and we were good enough to get a win last time.
"We have trained well this week and the guys have definitely gone up a notch in intensity. It’s going to be a great game."