History-making Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones admitted that blood had been spilled as training boiled over ahead of his team’s highly-anticipated Rugby World Cup 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.
“(Head 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 come 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 are 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.
– ‘Grand final’ –
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 backrow, 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.”
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