Wales and Australia tussle in Tokyo on Sunday in what is set up to be the second of the Rugby World Cup’s glamour games.
Champions New Zealand’s battle with South Africa lived up to the hype a few days ago, and fans, both neutral and partisan, will be hoping this pivotal Pool D encounter does likewise.
Ahead of the game, we pack down and pick out three talking points.
BACKS IN BUSINESS
Warren Gatland is the most successful and influential coach in Wales’ history, but his biggest Achilles heel has been a lack of cutting edge in attack – especially in latter years.
That has been viewed dimly by a fan base growing increasingly confused and exasperated considering some of the offensive weapons in Gatland’s armoury. Liam Williams is one of the best full-backs in the game today, ditto for wily centre Jonathan Davies, the visionary who makes Wales tick.
George North has rediscovered his best form – the winger offers a dual threat in that he is a physical mismatch with pace to burn. On the other wing, meanwhile, Josh Adams is developing into a razor-sharp talent and has four tries in 14 appearances since making his Dragons’ debut last year. Gareth Davies’ darting presence at scrum-half has yielded 12 tries in 45 caps and renders the loss of Rhys Webb almost inconsequential.
This is without mentioning the likes of Ross Moriarty, Justin Tipuric, Hadleigh Parkes and Leigh Halfpenny – the nation’s third-highest points scorer.
There’s no doubt Wales are well stocked in terms of weaponry, which is why the drudgery of ‘Warrenball’ has attracted so much criticism.
But there was a brightness to the attacking play in the opening win over Georgia. Wales scored six tries, all were born of style and ingenuity. Fans will hope that continues against the Wallabies and leads to a win.
Australia also won their opening game, but they were given far more of a fright against ferocious Fiji. Michael Cheika’s men were behind for an hour of the match, with the Flying Fijians’ brute force and sheer speed catching the eye.
And the Pacific Islanders would have been dreaming of an historic win over the Aussies. They have only won twice against the men from Down Under, and their last was all the way back in 1954.
Fiji ran out of steam…eventually. And the Wallabies found a way to win…eventually.
However, while fans of the green and gold basked in a thrilling victory, Cheika and his players will have quickly turned their thoughts to Chofu and an encounter that will likely decide the Pool D winner.
It’s a seismic showdown as top spot brings with it the lucrative prize of avoiding a likely quarter-final with England and instead a more appealing match against Argentina or France.
The Wallabies hold a vastly superior win record over Wales in this fixture throughout the years, triumphant in 30 of the countries’ 42 matches. They also won 13 in a row from November 2009 to November 2017. But Wales won the most recent, last November, on their way to a stellar 14-game unbeaten run, with the Wallabies in the midst of a challenging transition.
It is one that arguably makes Wales slight favourites for this game, which should only add to their intensity of what is set to be a thriller.
KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES
A totemic figure reaches a terrific milestone on Sunday – skipper Alun Wyn Jones will become Wales’ most capped player when he trots out onto the Tokyo Stadium turf.
Wales have some blistering options in the backs and some ferocious forwards more than adept at carrying the ball.
We mentioned above that Scarlets centre Davies is the nation’s metronome. But Jones is the Dragons’ beating heart. A pillar of consistency and calm, the Ospreys stalwart will leap into the top 20 of World Cup appearances against Australia – taking part in his 17th game on the grandest stage.
If he features in the two group games to follow he will surpass Gethin Jenkins – the man whose record he takes for Wales on Sunday. Depending on how far Wales go in the tournament he could break into the top 10, or even the top five.
Jones has seemingly been around for years, and yet only turned 34 earlier this month. He was only given the captaincy by Gatland full-time in 2017 but has quickly ascended to fourth place both in terms of times he’s led his nation and victories secured under his watch.
An absolute workhorse who goes about his defensive and lineout duties with a minimum of fuss, but always maximum effort, he is both a calm, composed presence and an attritional, inspirational leader of men.
In charge of one of the most talented Welsh World Cup squads ever, global glory and a place in the pantheon of the game’s greatest forwards and captains beckons.
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