Wales’s journey to world No.1

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They may be toppled this weekend without playing a game but no-one can take away the fact that on Monday August 19 2019, Wales were officially the best rugby side in the world.

They may be toppled this weekend without playing a game but no-one can take away the fact that on Monday August 19 2019, Wales were officially the best rugby side in the world.

A 13-6 victory over Guinness Six Nations rivals England last weekend lifted them to No.1 in World Rugby’s official rankings when they were released the following Monday – concluding an 18-month odyssey.

A 37-27 defeat to Ireland in Dublin during the 2018 Championship dropped Warren Gatland’s side to seventh in the world rankings but a subsequent remarkable run of 15 victories in 16 Tests lifted them all the way to the summit.

The result of England against Ireland at Twickenham this weekend will determine whether Wales’s stay at No.1 is just for a week but before that, we look at how they made it there.

Defeats to England and then Ireland may have ended their chances of winning the 2018 Championship but Wales needed a strong finish to restore confidence and got just that.

A slew of changes to the side that went down in Dublin paid immediate dividends for Gatland as flanker James Davies made his international debut and a rampant, two-try George North inspired them to a 38-14 triumph over Italy.

France proved a slightly tougher nut to crack in Cardiff one week later but three Leigh Halfpenny penalties and Liam Williams try, all before half-time, edged them to a 14-13 win and second place in the final Championship table.

Confidence duly restored, Wales built on that foundation with a successful summer tour of the USA and Argentina – beginning with a 22-20 victory over South Africa in Washington DC.

Neither side were exactly at full strength – Wales handing out seven new caps and the Springboks fielding a second-string team – but that didn’t make Ryan Elias’s late charge-down try to seal it any less sweet.

A 2-0 series win away in Argentina was even more remarkable as Wales’s youngsters battled to a 23-10 triumph in San Juan – Davies banning his maiden international try – and followed it up with a 30-12 success in Santa Fe as 20 points from the boot of Rhys Patchell led the way.

Wales were now officially on a roll and four impressive victories were added to the ever-increasing tally during the Autumn Internationals, despite captain Sam Warburton having announced his retirement and talismanic No.8 Taulupe Faletau battling injury.

The inaugural Doddie Weir Cup was secured with a 21-10 win over Guinness Six Nations rivals Scotland, before a decade-long, 13-game losing streak to Australia was ended thanks to Dan Biggar’s late penalty sealing a nerve-wracking 9-6 success.

It wasn’t a vintage game of rugby but Wales didn’t care a jot and Biggar followed that ice-cool kick with a man-of-the-match performance against Tonga the following week in a clash that more than made up for the lack of points seven days earlier.

Williams scored two tries on his 50th cap as the Pacific Islanders were put to the sword in a 74-24 rout and only old friends South Africa stood in the way of Wales’s first-ever unbeaten autumn.

Once again, Gatland’s men downed the Springboks – this time at Principality Stadium – turning a 14-3 half-time advantage into a 20-11 victory and setting the country up for a tilt at a Grand Slam in the 2019 Guinness Six Nations.

Nobody is more adept at winning Grand Slams in the Championship than Gatland and he became the first coach to have three of them on his CV, as a third in 11 years was secured in style.

During those magical seven weeks, the latest vintage also became the most successful Wales side in history by racking up a 12th straight win and they demonstrated a combination of guts and guile to clinch victory in each of their five matches.

The Grand Slam surge was almost over before it began when they trailed France 16-0 at half-time in the very first game of the 2019 Guinness Six Nations but produced a Friday night turnaround for the ages in Paris thanks to North double and a Tomos Williams try, to triumph 24-19.

A much-changed side then had too much for Italy in Round Two as they headed into the first rest week with a 26-15 win in Rome before a mouth-watering clash against old rivals England in Cardiff beckoned.

England led 10-3 at the break but, again, a scintillating second half saw the hosts home as Cory Hill and Josh Adams crossed in a 21-13 victory.

A gritty 18-11 success over Scotland at BT Murrayfield set up a Championship decider at Principality Stadium against defending champions Ireland and the Welsh were simply brilliant in the driving Cardiff rain.

Hadleigh Parkes got them off to a strong start before 20 points from Gareth Anscombe set up a memorable 25-7 victory, delivering a Grand Slam party led by captain and Guinness Six Nations Player of the Championship Alun Wyn Jones.

Although this summer’s Tests are primarily a warm-up for next month’s World Cup, Wales had the added carrot of the world No.1 spot if they could keep their winning run going.

Victory over England at Twickenham would have sent them top, yet that 14-match victory streak finally came to an end as Eddie Jones’s men defended their home turf with a snarl and inflicted a first defeat for 18 months.

England were fast out of the blocks and established a lead that Wales couldn’t overturn as they triumphed 33-19 to leave their old rivals waiting another week to climb to the top of the rankings.

Those seven days may have felt like an eternity to Gatland and co but on home soil, they inflicted immediate revenge on the Red Rose and usurped the All Blacks as the best side in the world.

The match itself wasn’t particularly memorable but North did what he does best – crossing the try-line – while Biggar and Halfpenny booted eight points between them to down their visitors 13-6.

On Monday, when World Rugby’s official ranking were released, there was no-one above Wales and even if it only lasts a week – they have scaled heights that no other Welsh side ever has.