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North backs Wales to overcome Gatland absence

George North admits it will be "weird" when Wales travel to Australia without Warren Gatland, but insists they can emerge victorious down under despite the absence of their coach.

Double Grand Slam winner Gatland has been sidelined from the tour as he recovers from the injuries he suffered in a fall at his home in New Zealand earlier this month.

The Kiwi, the favourite to lead the British & Irish Lions to Australia in 2013, broke both his heels and Rob Howley has been handed the reins as caretaker coach while Gatland recuperates.

The RBS 6 Nations champions face a tough summer with a three-Test series against the Wallabies following on from a Millennium Stadium appointment against the Barbarians.

And Wales will head down under having won just one game against the southern hemisphere giants of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia since Gatland and his coaching team took charge after the 2007 World Cup.

But Gatland and his staff have made it clear that having conquered Europe for the third time in eight seasons, the time has come for Wales to upset the global game's top three sides, starting in Australia in June.

And powerhouse wing North, 20, has every confidence that Wales can compete with the Wallabies, and is backing Howley to ably fill the void left by Gatland's absence.

"It's obviously bad news for Warren and we hope it's a speedy recovery," said the Scarlets three-quarter.

"But I am sure Rob will do a good job as all the other coaching staff will do.

"It will maybe affect us a little bit with the head coach not out there, but the quality of players we have now and the quality if the coaching staff is very high.

"It will be a bit weird not having him there but I am sure we can cope."

Wales' previous efforts to build on Grand Slam success in 2005 and 2008 ultimately fell short.

But North says there is no lack of hunger in their impressive young squad following their latest Six Nations clean sweep.

"We have been guilty in the past of slowing down after a slam but the boys we have here are keen to push on achieve more, we believe we can do that with the quality of players we have," he said.

"Australia are a hard team to play wherever you play them but it will be tough to play three Tests in their back yard.

"But it's where we need to be, we need to push ourselves to see where we are as a team and a squad."

Before that trip to Australia, Wales face a Barbarians side that will include one very familiar face.

Shane Williams, Wales' record try scorer with 58, will play his final game of rugby before hanging up his boots at the Millennium Stadium.

The 35-year-old retired from the Test game in December and, like North, he feels Wales can cope with Gatland's absence over the course of a gruelling series against Robbie Deans' Wallabies.

"I do feel they'll cope. Warren's got a great team behind him," he said.

"Rob Howley's been there before, he's been able to take over for short periods of time.

"Of course it's a massive loss to lose your coach but I'm sure Warren won't be losing any sleep over the fact he has people like Rob and Shaun Edwards taking over because they're fantastic coaches.

"No disrespect to Warren, it's not that much of a blow because he's got a great team behind him."

And Williams believes Gatland's absence could be a "blessing" as Howley is likely to be asked to fill a similar role in next year's Six Nations if Gatland is absent due to Lions' commitments.

"It's a blessing. It gives him his chance to take over Wales on a massive tour," he said.

"We need to take the next step and move on and be world beaters.

"That's what the Australia tour is all about, so it's a big test for Rob but I've got all the faith in him and I'm sure Warren has as well."