How to fracture the best defence in world rugby?
It’s a question the Wallabies have been asking themselves all week in Tokyo as they fine-tune for Sunday’s pool match against Wales, comfortably their toughest and most important game in the first month of the Rugby World Cup.
At stake is a probable top spot in pool D and the likelihood of an easier passage through the knockout phase.
Australian attack coach Shaun Berne this week conceded the Welsh stand alone statistically as boasting the best defence in the game.
The Six Nations champions conceded just five tries during their national record run of 14 straight wins that ended in March this year. Only once did an opponent go past 20 points.
Wallabies fullback Kurtley Beale said it is inevitable that the match will descend into trench warfare this weekend.
In the last 15 Australia-Wales clashes, just two have had double-figure winning margins, with attacking highlights often hard to filter.
Last November’s meeting was try-less 9-6 grind that ended the Wallabies’ 13-game winning streak.
The red wall represents one of the great puzzles for Beale, who reckoned victory will demand the right mix of pressure rugby and off-the-cuff strikes, all played out to the backdrop of what he expects to be suffocating tension at Tokyo Stadium.
“At a World Cup, there’s so much pressure so it’s a matter of which team can stay in the battle longer,” he said.
“I feel like their defence has gone up another level … so it places a little bit more importance on us holding the ball, building pressure that way and hopefully matching them with fitness.”
When pushed, Beale agreed a pinch of flair would probably be needed to separate the teams.
The veteran fullback, one of several players guilty of trying too much early in the opening win over Fiji, said the coaching staff hadn’t changed their policy of backing players to trust their attacking instincts.
Beale said the risk and reward of playing expansively was on show in Sapporo, when a misdirected Samu Kerevi pass resulted in a long-range Fijian try.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 25, 2019
“If Samu tipped that pass on, it’s a four-man overlap. We’ll keep backing ourselves and keep turning up for each other.
“It’s always going to go down to the wire. We know that and we’re prepared for that.”
Wales are taking heart from last November’s result, which ended a string of losses that had begun to weigh heavily.
Welsh prop Dillon Lewis said there was a feeling a curse had been lifted.
“It is massive to get those wins against the southern hemisphere teams and to get that win in the autumn last year against them is something we will be looking back on and seeing what we done right,” he said.
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