The world’s number two ranked team, come into the 2015 World Cup, as you would expect, second-favourites behind the might of New Zealand. However, that does not mean that you should write off the Wallabies. Fresh off the back of an undefeated Rugby Championship campaign, Australia will travel to England confident of taking the Webb Ellis trophy back with them.
Australia have a rich history in the Rugby World Cup, winning the trophy twice, in 1991 and the last time the tournament was held on British soil in 1999. However, a trophyless 16 years of hurt will not of gone unnoticed down under. 2003 was meant to be their year, the champions and hosts, reached the final on their home soil. However, one fateful Jonny Wilkinson drop-goal denied the Wallabies hopes of retaining their trophy.
Four years later in France, Australia again fell to the hands, or rather the feet, of Jonny Wilkinson and a resilient English side that pushed Australia all the way and knock them out at the quarter-final stage. 2011, a difficult year, a young Australian side was put firmly in their place by an outstanding New Zealand. A 20-6 defeat to their local rivals in the semi-finals and their hopes of winning the famous trophy were over for another four years. This time round, a vengeful Australia travel to Britain with only one thing on their minds.
However, Australia will not have an easy ride to the knockout stages of the competition. England and Wales will join Australia in Group A, where only two can progress to the knockouts, therefore guaranteeing a shock exit for one of the favourites early on. As if this challenge was not hard enough, Australia will meet England at Twickenham in front of 80,000 England fans and similarly they will meet Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff in front of a hostile Welsh crowd. Australia will need to bring their A-game with them if they have any hope of reaching the last eight.
Fiji and Uruguay make up the rest of the group, perhaps the weakest of the group, these two opponents will be no whipping boys, especially Fiji, a tough side with a lot of talent. However, in Group A, a group within a group has emerged as no doubt, the games between England, Wales and Australia will decide who goes through. Win this group and the winners will more than likely face Argentina, finish second and the runners-up will face South Africa, two difficult opponents but winning will obviously be preferred.
So, let us look at the Australian credentials to assess their hopes of winning. Australia have, without a doubt, the best attacking back lines in the world. A combination of Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani and Israel Folau is enough to open up even the best teams in the world, as proven in the 2015 Rugby Championship. Coupled with the ever-dynamic Queensland Reds duo Quade Copper and Will Genia linking the play, the direct running and finishing ability of the likes of Ashley-Cooper and Folau is only intensified.
However, Australia’s weakness lies in their forward play. A distinct lack of experience, after coach Michael Cheika overlooked veteran second-row James Horwill in favour of choosing five props, including uncapped Kiwi-born prop Toby Smith. The weaker pack could be the difference against the notoriously strong packs of England and Wales in group A. In order to come out on top, Stephen Moore is going to have to play a vital role, without the hooker the Australian forwards often look disillusioned and set-pieces become much more of a struggle. Therefore, if they can front up physically to the Welsh and English scrum, control set-pieces and get the ball out to the backs quickly, Australia should have too much prowess for the host nations.
However, do Australia have what it takes to go all the way? In a word, yes. Although the 2015 Rugby Championship has been unofficially called a World Cup warm up, between the four teams involved, there are no friendly games, each game matters more than the last. Therefore to win that tournament and get the better of New Zealand and South Africa before the World Cup has even begun offers a serious psychological advantage over their rivals. This Wallaby outfit has the best chance of winning the Webb Ellis Trophy since 2003 and are definitely the ones to watch.