Rugby World Cup 2019: Tokyo triumph fuels Wales title dreams
It was one balmy night in Tokyo.
Welsh rugby has had many defining days over the years but this World Cup extravaganza takes some beating.
And Wales are now starting to believe. Not just the players and coaches, maybe the nation. Believe that Warren Gatland's side can actually win the World Cup.
It is an ambition that has been talked about over the past 18 months, especially during the record 14-match unbeaten run of 2018-19.
That led to Grand Slam glory and Wales were even ranked number one in the world for a couple of weeks in August.
Those hopes of World Cup success may have been still exactly that. Hope rather than expectation.
Now this one magical game in Japan has changed all that. After a 13-match losing sequence against the Wallabies, Wales have beaten Australia for a second successive game. And they have won the match that mattered.
Plaudits and comparisons will flow. Wales' greatest World Cup win? Most impressive Wales performance under Warren Gatland?
What is not in doubt is Wales are now in the driving seat to win Pool D and on a potentially easier path to the final in Yokohama on 2 November.
In front of interested England coach Eddie Jones, Wales' victory means they have maybe have avoided a quarter-final with his side, with France or Argentina lying in wait.
First the match. And what a match. A World Cup group game should not evoke such intensity and passion especially in such humid conditions. That is meant to ramp up later in the tournament. But what the crowd of just under 50,000 witnessed in Japan's capital city will prove unforgettable.
Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards said before the match the players would remember this game for the rest of their lives. He was right.
A promising tournament had come alive when hosts Japan defeated Ireland. A day later Wales and Australia, two of the big beasts of this competition, produced this sensational spectacular in the match of the tournament so far.
For Welsh fans it was excruciating at times. Especially towards the end. For 45 minutes Wales were tactically peerless as they built up a 26-8 lead before the relentless inevitable Australia response.
Wales were reminiscent of a 400m runner who charged out of the blocks and hoped to hold onto victory by coping with the lactic acid.
Australia came up on the shoulder of Wales in the final straight but never passed them.
Gatland's side produced that decisive final flourish to provide spectacular celebration scenes from the Welsh supporters. Those fans might have been outnumbered in the stadium but they made themselves heard.
Manic Street Peachers anthems boomed around outside the stadium in Tokyo. The Welsh band held a couple of concerts in the Japan capital and there was a performance just before the match at the ground by lead singer James Dean Bradfield.
There was even some late floodlight failure to add to the drama. Wales' World Cup hopes are still shining bright though.
Statistics sometimes lie
Wales are heroic under Gatland. Their defence is resilient. These two factors are just accepted now and this Wales side once more belied the statistics.
Australia enjoyed more possession and territory, had double the amount of defenders beaten, made more clean breaks and won more penalties.
Yet they lost. Statistics can't demonstrate passion and pride and Wales delivered this when it mattered most.
There were so many key moments to dissect. Tries from Hadleigh Parkes and Gareth Davies' interception were supplemented by the boots of Dan Biggar and Rhys Patchell to set the tone.
Who knew the drop goal was back in fashion? Wales demonstrated that was the case with Biggar and Patchell slotting over three points at the beginning of each half after patient attacking build-up.
Before their second-half recovery, Australia were rattled and fortunate captain Michael Hooper was not yellow-carded for a late high shoulder charge on the unfortunate Biggar.
Hooper was also riled by French referee Romain Poite when Samu Kerevi was penalised for a forearm smash into Patchell when the Australian centre was carrying the ball.
Hooper blamed Patchell's poor tackling technique, Poite disagreed, while Australia coach Michael Cheika moaned about the tackle laws afterwards. Wales just got on with business.
Wales overcame plenty of their own adversity. They lost Biggar whose brave but poor technical tackle on Australia giant Kerevi resulted in the Wales fly-half stopping a try but failing a head injury assessment.
Patchell has suffered concussions of his own in the last two years but his level-headed composed performance belied his relative international inexperience.
Other new heroes emerged. Dragons back-rower Aaron Wainwright set the tone with a counter-rucking turnover from the kick-off. Against Hooper and David Pocock, the 22-year-old tackled everything in green and gold and ran like a banshee for the 49 minutes he was on the field.
There was also a notable late intervention from replacement scrum-half Tomos Williams when he acrobatically kept a Matt Toomua kick to touch in play in the final minutes in the Welsh 22. Small moments, huge implications.
Williams had come on for man-of-the-match Gareth Davies. How that Wales scrum-half loves World Cups.
Davies scored the decisive try against England in Twickenham four years ago and here showed jet-heeled speed to pick off Will Genia's pass and sprint away to score.
His pace off the mark even made former Australia centre Stirling Mortlock question whether the Wales scrum-half was offside.
Old heroes proved themselves again. Hooker Ken Owens and Justin Tipuric were immense in defence in the face of the Australian onslaught inspired by the second-half introduction of Toomua at outside-half for the ineffective Bernard Foley.
Tipuric's fellow back-rower Josh Navidi continued to defy the odds with some brutal tackles.
Then there was Alun Wyn Jones. The inspirational captain commemorated becoming Wales' most capped player on his 130th Test appearance for his country by topping the tackle charts. 25 in all. A remarkable figure for a lock but this 34-year-old second-row is no ordinary player.
His record-breaking achievement was recognised after the game by an affectionate kiss from Wales wing George North.
Gatland did say afterwards Wales must celebrate the victory for the skipper. I am not sure this is exactly what Jones had in mind but even the steely skipper can get caught up in the emotion sometimes.
Wales now deserve to rest up. Fiji await on 9 October in Oita. As World Cup recesses go the recovery period is significant.
So was this remarkable result in Japan's capital city. How significant we will have wait to see. But Wales can just start believing in that World Cup dream.