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Gareth Davies Has Shunned The Beer . . . But Still Intends To Raise A Glass If Wales Stay On Top Of The World

If Gareth Davies had accepted all the offers to buy him a pint since Twickenham and the World Cup of 2015, then he certainly wouldn’t be going to this year’s tournament.

Instead of going to back to face England today, he would probably be drying out in a clinic somewhere – although he would still have a good story to tell of the night he scored the try that pulled the rug from under the hosts.

Four years on and the Scarlets No.9 will be part of a Wales team aiming to get their warm-up plans off to a positive start by proving by they are worthy of their new status as the No.1 ranked team in the world.

That honour – bestowed on them after New Zealand’s shock defeat to Australia on Saturday – could be taken away as quickly as it was given if they lose to Eddie Jones’ side.

But Davies believes Wales can repeat that famous win of the pool stage of the last tournament, when he swooped onto a cross-kick to score as Wales withered the red rose with a 28-25 victory.

“Every now and again someone mentions it and wants to buy me a beer – and I still get tagged in mentions of it on social media,” says Davies, ahead of today’s first World Cup warm-up clash before the tournament in Japan.

“Scoring that try at Twickenham is one of the highlights of my career.  Hopefully, I can have more memories like that over the next couple of months.”

Wales are on a roll, their momentum built by a 14-match unbeaten run, which includes their 21-13 Six Nations win over Eddie Jones’ men.

Confident of his best line-up six weeks ahead of their opening game in Japan, Wales coach Warren Gatland has picked his strongest team and said he will do so again for next week’s return in Cardiff.

Jones, though, is still tinkering, which means a debut for Gloucester scrum-half Willi Heinz at the age of 32.

Davies adds: “Willi Heinz is a top class player with plenty of experience. I think he’s one of the best nines in the Premiership.

“He’s been waiting for a while for his first cap and I think he thoroughly deserved it, but hopefully I can get one up on him on Sunday.

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“I’ve only played against him once before. That was a friendly for the Scarlets at Gloucester. We lost, I think, but he can have that one. This is the one that matters.”

Davies says the Wales players are desperate to start playing matches again after weeks spent focusing on their fitness levels.

“It’s been a tough eight or nine weeks in camps and so we’re really looking forward to playing rugby again this weekend.

“There was a lot of running for the first few weeks, but in the last period we’ve done a lot more than we did four years ago.

“We feel we’re in a really place ahead of this game on Sunday. We’ve had a quick look at the England team. It’s unfamiliar in some ways, but it’s still a very strong side.

“The have a strong bench and whatever team England pick is going to be a good team.

“We’ve gone for a much more familiar team to the one that played in the Six Nations. But I’m sure over the next few weeks, Gats might change things round a bit. The onus is on us to put in a good performance at Twickenham.

“I think this squad is as strong, and maybe even stronger, than the one we had four years ago. We’re certainly going in to the tournament with even more momentum after winning 14 matches on the bounce.”

World Rugby’s latest rankings list – to be published at midday on Monday – will confirm the end of New Zealand’s 10-year reign at the top if Wales deliver.

The Six Nations champions are chasing a 15th successive victory – an ongoing record – and head coach Warren Gatland is not messing around.

He has selected 13 of the team that started Wales’ Six Nations title and Grand Slam-clinching victory over Ireland in March for their opening World Cup warm-up clash.

And it is also a red-letter day for Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones, whose 135th Test match appearance – 126 for Wales and nine in British and Irish Lions colours – will make him his country’s most-capped player.

World champions New Zealand’s 47-26 Rugby Championship loss to Australia on Saturday has opened the door for a Wales side unbeaten since February last year.

Jones, though, knows that a tough job awaits, especially as several England players face final World Cup auditions before head coach Eddie Jones announces his 31-man squad for Japan on Monday.

“It is very easy to say it’s just a warm-up, or a Rugby World Cup warm-up,” Jones said. “For us, it’s a Test.

“You pull on a jersey, it’s a Test match jersey, and we are trying to treat it that way.

“There is probably a bit of pressure on us for that, and we are calling it a Test because we don’t want to talk it down.

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“We are very real in what we have achieved and how we have achieved it and where we can improve. We are a settled side, but there are still gears we can move into.

“We won’t take it lightly, but we have to be confident. I am not going to tell the boys to believe, but we know the record speaks for itself and there are a few of us who have been here (Twickenham) and been successful.

“The caveat to that is you can’t be complacent. It is the first game of the season with a different side England have picked, which makes them more dangerous than ever.”

Jones, meanwhile, has played down individual praise showered on him as he prepares to overtake prop Gethin Jenkins at the top of Wales’ appearance chart.

“It’s not really a focus for me,” he added.

“Obviously, it’s validation for the support network I’ve had throughout my career – not just in the professional realms, but my family, my wife and my children, too.

“That makes me proud, but a lot of people have contributed to my career from intermediate level, domestic level and international level. There are a lot more people for me to thank. That is more special for me than the number itself.”

Wales have made a change to their match-day 23 for Sunday with scrum-half Tomos Williams being ruled out.

Cardiff Blues number nine Williams was named among the replacements, but he suffered a shoulder injury in training on Thursday. His place on the bench has been taken by the Ospreys’ Aled Davies.

England: Daly; Cokanasiga, Joseph, Francis, Watson; Ford, Heinz; Genge, Cowan-Dickie, Cole, Launchbury, Ewels, Ludlam, Curry, B Vunipola

Replacements: Singleton, Marler, Williams, Kruis, Lawes, Youngs, Marchant, Tuilagi

Wales: L Williams; North, J Davies, Parkes, Adams; Anscombe, G Davies; Smith, Owens, Francis, Beard, Wyn Jones, Wainwright, Tipuric, Moriarty.

Replacements: Dee, Jones, Lewis, Ball, Shingler, A Davies, Biggar, Watkin.


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