As we draw nearer to the start of the Rugby World Cup in Japan, every rugby supporter has made their predictions as to who will lift the Webb Ellis Cup. Plenty of nations are in the mix as people talk about which team is most likely to win, however one team is noticeably absent from the conversation surrounding potential finalists. This is for good reason.
Michael Cheika’s Australian side has suffered four years of indifferent performances since losing out to the All Blacks in the final of the 2015 World Cup in England. After losing the final 34-17 to New Zealand, Australia went on to lose all three matches of their June test series against England, in Australia. In fact, in the year following their second place finish in the last World Cup, Australia won less than half of their test matches, six out of fifteen, which included wins over South Africa in Australia, two wins over Argentina and a relatively successful year end tour that saw them earn narrow wins over Scotland and France, and a comfortable win over Wales.
Fast forward to 2017, and Australia continued their inconsistent run of form. Out of their fifteen test matches in 2017, they won just more than half of their matches (eight), and drew to South Africa in the Rugby Championship. Notably, Australia posted a big win against Japan in 2017, and even managed to beat the All Blacks in the final match of the Bledisloe Cup. However, two losses to Scotland, one by a 53-24 margin, marred the Australian season in 2017. For each match that the Wallabies played well, the next match was fraught with errors and discipline issues.
This trend continued into the 13-match 2018 season, during which Australia produced a few magical performances, but slumped to other lows as well. They opened 2018 with a mighty win over Ireland in Australia, but subsequently slumped to a 1-2 series defeat against the Irish in the subsequent last two matches of the June tour. Another win against a struggling South Africa buoyed the Australian Rugby Championship campaign, in which they were unable to come close against the All Blacks. Perhaps the biggest low for the Wallabies just a year out of the World Cup was their first ever home defeat to Argentina, as well as a sloppy 9-6 loss to Wales at the end of the year.
Now, moving on to the Rugby World Cup year, Australia has played five matches, and won three of them, including a massive win against the World Cup favourites New Zealand by 47-26 in Sydney. However, they had also been shown up by a second choice Springbok side in Johannesburg just three weeks earlier. The week after their massive win over the World Champions, Australia looked a shadow of the side that played in Sydney, as they were embarrassed in a 36-0 defeat to the same New Zealand team. This has been the story of the Wallabies World Cup preparations, as they have not been able to string together any real momentum or solid performances.
Over the past few years, Australia have shown some glimpses of brilliance, and have done enough to warrant some fear from the rest of the world in Japan. However, there have also been a number of off field distractions for the Wallabies, that have seen them lose arguably their best player in the last 10 years, Isreal Folau. Folau’s breach of his Rugby Australia contract will undoubtedly be a major factor in Australia’s campaign, as his absence will be sorely felt by his teammates in Japan. His ability under the high ball, as well as his strong running game have contributed greatly towards the Australian wins in the past.
If Australia are not able to settle in Japan early, and string together some confident performances through the pool stages, it will be highly unlikely that they will be able to make it as far as they did in 2015. The Wallabies should still be favourites to make it out of their pool alongside Wales, and could even cause some problems for either England, France or Argentina in the quarter finals. However, it is unlikely that they will be able to fend off the likes of New Zealand, Ireland or South Africa on their way to the final.
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