Cancel all plans for Sunday afternoon and get ready for the biggest game yet in this Rugby World Cup.
Michael Cheika’s Wallabies taking on Warren Gatland’s Wales. Four years of preparation comes down to this. 80 unsparing minutes of blood and thunder.
For Australia and Wales, Pool D is now there for the taking following Fiji’s shock defeat to Uruguay.
This blockbuster encounter in Tokyo is likely to decide who will win the group and most likely avoid England in the quarter-finals.
The Welsh have arrived in Japan full of belief having been ranked above the All Blacks this year as the number one team on the planet. For the thousands of fans draped in red, now is the time to finally deliver the Webb Ellis Cup.
Wales have been close before. Most notably the semi-final heartbreak of 2011 which featured Sam Warburton’s terribly unjust red card.
The former Welsh captain told Sky Sports this week that victory this Sunday could prove pivotal in the final outcome of this tournament.
“If Wales can beat Australia I think that will be a real springboard to potentially get through to a semi-final, if not a final. There is so much riding on the game.
“To beat a southern hemisphere team away from home in a World Cup, that would be a brilliant statement from Wales.”
Warburtons’ comments followed a dominant opening game victory over Georgia in which the Welsh were driven on by their current captain Alun Wyn Jones.
The 34-year-old has been a warrior for Wales teams since 2006, playing in four World Cups.
Jones will make his 139th cap against the Aussies equaling George Gregan for international appearances. There is nobody more inspiring in world rugby.
Having had assistant coach Rob Howley sent home for a potential breach of World Rugby’s regulations on betting, Wales are fortunate to have Stephen Jones – who has done well as attacking coach for the Scarlets – come in as his replacement.
That said, the attacking tactics shouldn’t change much.
The Welsh will look to target the Wallabies, in particular fullback Kurtley Beale, with high balls from the boot of Gareth Davies.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is well aware of the aerial assault that awaits his side on Sunday.
“I get it,” Cheika said, during a press conference this week.
“I understand they are the tactics, kick and pressure, and all that business, but there is no guarantee that style of footy is going to win us games either.
“We’re not big kickers of the ball. Australians like to play with the footy in hand. The running game is who we are and that is how we want to play footy.”
The Wallabies go into Sunday’s clash as outsiders with the bookies ($2.10 to $1.75) but underestimate them at your peril.
Prior to this World Cup Australia had defeated Wales on 13 consecutive occasions until the last meeting in November 2018 when Wales ended the losing streak with a 9-6 victory in Cardiff, their first victory since 2008.
Australia know they must take catches, exploit set-pieces and move the Welsh around to create gaps in which they can cause havoc. Wales will look to attack at the break-downs so it will be fascinating to see how that plays out.
The Wallabies back-line must also gel early in this match to avoid a repeat of the slow start they made against Fiji. The Six Nations Grand Slam winners are certainly not a side you want to be chasing.
Australia will be missing winger Reece Hodge who has been banned for three games following his dangerous tackle on Peceli Yato in the win over Fiji. Will Genia sparked a second-half revival in that match and the playmaker could be crucial again when called upon.
Wales will be without second-row Cory Hill who has gone home with a knee injury. Bradley Davies has been called up to the squad in his place.
The atmosphere inside the Ajinomoto Stadium will be phenomenal with thousands of Australian fans set to descend on Tokyo for what is the standout game of the World Cup so far.
It is also likely to be a nerve-shredder with 12 of the last 13 matches between the sides decided by single-figure margins.
Both Australia and Wales scored six tries in their tournament openers but it is worth noting that despite easing off, Wales’ second half against Georgia finished up 14-14. By comparison, Australia piled on 27 unanswered second-half points against Fiji.
If the scoreline is tight at the death Australia may have the psychological edge given their knack of finishing off close contests between the two sides in recent history.
However, under Gatland’s guidance Wales have figured out a way to beat the very best teams. It will be mightily close, but Wales’ defence, kicking and discipline should just edge it.