Preview: Wales v Australia
WORLD CUP POOL MATCH: History-making Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones admitted that blood had been spilt as training boiled over ahead of his team’s highly-anticipated Pool D blockbuster with Australia on Sunday.
Both teams opened their campaign in Japan with victories, Australia beating Fiji 39-21 and Six Nations champions Wales running out 43-14 winners over Georgia.
Fiji then suffered a surprise 30-27 defeat by minnows Uruguay, meaning Sunday’s match will likely decide the winners and runners-up of the pool.
“We came out the blocks well against Georgia and with consistency in selection, we’ve got another chance now,” said Jones, who will win a Wales record 130th Test cap against the Wallabies.
“[Coach] Warren Gatland has always said that we perform in big matches and the biggest test is in front of us. We won’t shy away from that.
“There was a bit of red stuff flowing at training on Thursday, which was all well-meant because it was for the betterment of the team!”
Gatland named an unchanged run-on team from the one that beat Georgia, the only change on the bench seeing Owen Watkin coming in for Leigh Halfpenny to offer direct cover for Hadleigh Parkes, who has a minor fracture in his hand.
The Kiwi coach said thoughts had not strayed beyond the Australia match.
“It’s all about taking it one game at a time and trying to build and create momentum. We feel like we’re a team that is capable of doing that the longer we go on,” he said.
“We had a pretty good start in the first game. It’s going to be a tough Australian team, but we’ve had some close battles over recent years and we were lucky enough to get a hard-fought win last autumn.”
That win, a dour 9-6 victory in Cardiff, bucked a 13-match winning streak for the Wallabies going back a decade.
Gatland described that game as “a typical old-fashioned test match, there wasn’t much given by both sides, defence dominated the game”.
Australia coach Michael Cheika, for whom every match is a “grand final”, has made four changes to his team, drafting in half-backs Will Genia and Bernard Foley and benching free-running Kurtley Beale for Dane Haylett-Petty.
“With their back three, and Foley and Genia as well, they’ll probably try to negate some of our kicking threat,” Gatland said.
“We’re pretty good with Dan Biggar at 10, in the air as well, that’s probably where we got an advantage over them last November so I think they’re aware of that.”
Australia’s biggest strength is arguably their back row, with skipper Michael Hooper and David Pocock proven foragers at the breakdown.
Cheika, however, picked Wales as favourites for the game, which mirrors the pool match the two sides played at the 2015 World Cup – the Wallabies snuck that one 15-6.
“They’ve been on a long Test-winning streak, they’re a great defensive team and really disciplined and very well drilled,” Cheika said.
“We know they’re favourites to win but we’ll just go out there and do our best, put on our best performance.”
Gatland said that Cheika’s decision to pick a team to negate Welsh threats was a sign of respect.
“We’ve got two good teams going out there on Sunday and hopefully it’ll be a great game of rugby.”
Players to watch
For Wales: Alun Wyn Jones will become Wales’ most capped player in this game, winning his 130th cap – also making his 119th start for Wales since he made his debut in 2006. In total, with nine additional British and Irish Lions Test appearances, he moves onto 139 Test caps, joint fourth on the all-time list and level with former Australia captain George Gregan. The team is unchanged, so you will look for improvements allround.
For Australia: Adam Ashley-Cooper will start on the right wing in place of Reece Hodge, missing after copping a three-week suspension for his cheap-shot high tackle against Fiji. Dane Haylett-Petty is at fullback. Other key changes see Bernard Foley at flyhalf and Will Genia at scrumhalf.
Head to head
Almost every position has a ‘big’ face-off, but the halfback battles – Dan Biggar and Gareth Davies (Wales) against Bernard Foley and Will Genia (Australia) will be pivotal – literally and figuratively. Then you look at the set pieces – Alun Wyn Jones, Jake Ball, Tomas Francis, Ken Owens and Wyn Jones (Wales) versus Rory Arnold, Izack Rodda, Allan Alaalatoa, Tolu Latu and Scott Sio (Australia).
Last 12 results
Prediction: Even the bookmakers are finding it tough to separate these two teams and it might well finish inside a one-score margin. We are giving it to Wales by three points.
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Josh Navidi, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Aaron Shingler, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Owen Watkin.
Australia: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 James O’Connor, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 David Pocock, 5 Rory Arnold, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 James Slipper, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 21 Nic White, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Kurtley Beale.
Date: Sunday, September 29
Venue: Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo
Kick-off: 16.45 (17.45 AEST; 08.45 UK time; 07.45 GMT)
Expected weather: Humid, with a passing morning shower, then times of clouds and sun. High of 28°C, with a low of 22°C
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Luke Pearce (England), Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)