Number one spot waiting for Wales if they can see off England on Sunday
Wales will become rugby union’s new number one-ranked nation if they avoid defeat against England at Twickenham on Sunday.
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.
“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, the Welsh Rugby Union said.
His place on the bench has been taken by Ospreys’ Aled Davies.