Wallabies out to produce own fireworks show vs Wales
TOKYO (AP) — Every night since Sunday when they arrived in Tokyo, Wallabies have been staring out of their windows.
From their hotel which overlooks Tokyo Disneyland, they have been drawn to the evening fireworks show above Cinderella’s Castle.
Now it’s time to produce their own fireworks show in Tokyo in the Rugby World Cup.
And when it comes to Sunday’s opponent Wales, the Wallabies usually do.
Until last November, Australia had won 13 straight against Wales, including a 2011 World Cup third-place playoff at Eden Park and a 2015 World Cup pool game at Twickenham that became an instant classic.
Last November, Wales prevailed for the first time in a decade, 9-6 in Cardiff. The outcome was significant. For almost the entire Welsh squad, used to wins snatched from them by Australia in the dying moments of matches, they finally got over the hump. It was by only three points, but the shift in mindset was bigger: The Welsh now knew what victory against the pesky Wallabies felt like, and how to finish them off.
The timing was impeccable, being their last meeting before this World Cup encounter. Wales won’t be wondering when they run out at Tokyo Stadium.
“Losing games in the last minute in half a dozen contests can be quite demoralizing,” coach Warren Gatland says. “Australia was one we targeted specially to try to right the wrongs.”
The memory of that result gives them a great shot at ending another, even longer, losing streak to Australia in Rugby World Cups.
After Wales won their first World Cup matchup in 1987 in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff for third, Australia has won every contest at the tournament since, either eliminating, eviscerating, or edging the Welsh in five straight matchups over the last 28 years.
By unspoken coincidence, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika went back to the 2015 World Cup in promoting halves Will Genia and Bernard Foley, and wing Adam Ashley-Cooper among four changes to his starting lineup, all in the backline, after their opening 39-21 comeback win over Fiji last weekend.
Australia rallied from 21-12 down in the second half through its forwards, and the entire pack was retained.
But Cheika decided to promote his veterans along with Dane Haylett-Petty and drop Nic White and Kurtley Beale to the reserves, and Christian Leali’ifano altogether. Winger Reece Hodge was suspended.
Cheika said the moves were pre-planned and not based on form. He believes the risk will pan out.
“I just want to make a different picture for this game,” he says.
Gatland preferred the same picture, picking the same starting XV which blew away Georgia 29-0 in the first half and ultimately won 43-14 last Monday. Even with two days’ less rest than Australia, Gatland believed it would have been unfair to drop anyone.
There will be an extra special focus on captain Alun Wyn Jones, who will surpass Gethin Jenkins to become the most capped player for Wales with 130.
With Jones sitting beside him, Gatland paid tribute.
“Since he’s been captain we don’t have as many fights at training because he used to start most of them,” Gatland quipped.
“That’s how competitive he was. People who get to the top have a drive and a desire to want to be successful and he’s definitely done that. He doesn’t say a lot, he just leads from the front at training and matches, and sets a great example. We’re very lucky to have him.”
Jones said there was some blood spilled in training on Thursday, showing how much the players were on edge.
The only obvious edge about the Wallabies has been on Hodge, who was suspended for the rest of their pool games for a dangerous tackle.
But Australia won’t be sidetracked by Hodge’s banishment, just as Wales wasn’t sidetracked last week by assistant coach Rob Howley’s banishment.