Wales play Australia in Tokyo on Sunday morning in a game which could go a long way to deciding Pool D, but have the coaches got their team selections right? Here Sky Sports News reporter James Cole takes a closer look.
Two very contrasting team selections were announced overnight in Japan.
Wales – unchanged. Consistent. Settled.
Australia – reactive and remodelled.
Australia coach Michael Cheika has surprised everyone by shuffling the pack – well his backline, actually.
He’s made four changes behind the scrum – including the pivotal positions of half-backs and full-back. Whether it’s panic stations or a smart tactical selection, it certainly contrasts starkly with Sunday’s Pool D opponents.
Warren Gatland has made no attempt to hide what he believes is his best team and – apart from potentially recalling No 8 Ross Moriarty – the Wales boss was never going to ring the changes for a potential pool-decider.
Centre Hadleigh Parkes starts, despite Gatland revealing he has a “small fracture” in his hand. That injury will be a concern. His partnership with Jonathan Davies is key to Wales’ success at this World Cup.
“We had a good debate about the loose forwards,” Gatland said
“Whether we start with Ross Moriarty was a discussion but we wanted to give that team another opportunity. We felt that it wasn’t fair to drop anyone.
“It’s just about building on that first game with the short turnaround.”
Alun Wyn Jones
Whatever happens in Tokyo on Sunday – and indeed during this campaign – Alun Wyn Jones will go down as a Wales great.
Appearance number 130 will see him become the country’s most-capped player – and it comes in a huge game for the Six Nations and Grand Slam champions.
Let’s be clear, this is not a must-win for Wales; if they lose they can – and probably will – still progress to the quarter-finals.
But victory would likely see them avoid England in the knock-outs and provide confidence and momentum going forward.
“He’s a great competitor, since he’s been captain, we don’t have as many fights at training because he used to start most of them,” Gatland said of Jones
“That’s how competitive he is. To become Wales’ record Test player is pretty special.”
Wales aerial bombardment
Much of this Welsh side’s recent success has come from what they do without the ball. They are one of – if not the – best defensive sides in the world.
Against Georgia, half-backs Gareth Davies and Dan Biggar used high kicks to pressurise the opposition and gain territory.
Wales then trust their robust defence to force errors inside the opposition half – and it’s from there they attack.
Michael Cheika is all too aware of this and has rung the changes.
The imminent threat of a Welsh aerial attack sees full-back Kurtley Beale dropped in favour of Dane Haylett-Petty – who is considered safer under the high ball.
Fly-half Bernard Foley is brought in for his kicking game, while scrum-half Nic White pays the price for some loose kicking against Fiji.
Watch out for Samu Kerevi
Welsh centres Parkes and Davies are going to have their hands full – and one of Parkes’ hands is broken.
Samu Kerevi is a big ball-carrying and skilful Australian centre, who can do a lot of damage through the middle.
Powerful – yes – but the Fijian-born Queenslander also has the ability to offload in contact and get behind defences.
He was excellent in his side’s 47-26 victory over New Zealand in Perth last month.
Wales’ centre partnership will need to be at their typical defensive best.
In Michael Hooper and David Pocock, Australia have two players who are outstanding at disrupting and stealing opposition ball at the tackle area – the ‘breakdown’.
For that reason the back-row battle will be huge.
Wales have strength in that area too. Josh Navidi and Justin Tipuric complimented each other nicely against Georgia — and it’s no surprise that Dragons No 8 Moriarty was close to being recalled.
It will be the job of the entire Welsh pack to ensure “Pooper” (as Pocock and Hooper are affectionately known) don’t disrupt Welsh ball – but from first phase, Navidi and Tipuric will need to be first, fast and precise.
“We did a good job last year on Hooper. I think he attempted 12 jackals and he didn’t get any,” said Gatland