Pool D: Wallabies have renewed hope after Rugby Championship
Australia’s win over the All Blacks shows they can still match anyone on their day
Plenty will be resting on the shoulders of captain Michael Hooper in Japan. Photograph: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo/Getty
Who are they?
The Rugby Championship has sparked some renewed hope into the Wallabies, who prior to the tournamwnt were on a run of just four wins out of 14 Test matches since 2018, a year which started with a 2-1 home series defeat to Ireland. Australia’s miserable form had been played out alongside the Israel Folau saga, with one of the nation’s few truly world class stars being fired by Rugby Australia for posting homophobic religious views on Instagram. Yet nobody would be surprised if the Wallabies are there or there abouts come the business end of the tournament in Japan, as their recent 47-26 win over the All Blacks in Perth highlights - although enthusiasm has been tempered somewhat by their subsequent 36-0 defeat in Auckland.
In eight World Cups, Australia have never failed to make at least the quarter-finals, winning it twice and reaching two further finals. It is a formidable record, and is enough to make any team wary of Michael Cheika’s wounded Wallabies this autumn. Australia have been handed a boost with the fitness of David Pockock, with the backrow selected for Japan after overcoming a calf injury - a timeley return.
Despite a terrible 2018 campaign which represented the nation’s worst year since 1958, Rugby Australia have kept faith with former Leinster coach Michael Cheika. However, it seems inevitable his five years in charge of the Wallabies will come to an end if his side fail to fire in Japan, with Cheika himself saying he is likely to walk unless Australia lift the Webb Ellis Cup. That seems unlikely, but if Cheika can forge a siege-mentality this autumn then his side could surprise everyone and mount a serious challenge - just like they did en-route to the final in 2015.
With no Israel Folau, and with his old mate in the backrow David Pocock only just back from injury, the burden on Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper will be greater than ever in Japan. Hooper is still only 27-years-old yet he has racked up a staggering 95 caps since making his debut against Scotland in 2012. A roaming, scavenging openside, Hooper captained the Wallabies at the age of just 22 - a testament to both his ability and a maturity beyond his years.
The one to watch
Australia might be missing one Folau this autumn, but another has the chance to make a name for himself in Japan. Folau Fainga’a is a hooker with a phenomenal try scoring record, crossing the whitewash 12 times for the Brumbies in this year’s Super Rugby campaign - only All Blacks backs Ngani Laumape and Sevu Reece managed more. At 24-years-old - and with 11 caps to his name since his debut against New Zealand last August - Fainga’a is inexperienced, but he’s the type of the dynamic presence the Wallabies need to take them forward.
Their RWC moment
Australia’s 1999 success was built on two famous victories at Lansdowne Road - against Ireland in the quarter-finals and the All Blacks in the last four. It was the magic man David Campese who inspired their win over New Zealand - his magic pass to Tim Horan in a 16-6 win going down in tournament folklore.
Best RWC finish
Winners: 1991, 1999
The Wallabies seem to be in a better place now than they were a few months ago, and they always seem to thrive on the biggest stage. However even if they urvive an opening round test against Fiji and qualify in second place behind Wales they are likely to meet England - who they haven’t beaten since 2015 - in the quarter-finals. It would be hard to see them getting a result there.
Backs: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Lealiifano, James O’Connor, Jordan Petaia, Matt To’omua, Nic White
Forwards: Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Adam Coleman, Jack Dempsey, Folau Fainga’a, Michael Hooper (capt), Sekope Kepu, Tolu Latu, Isi Naisarani, David Pocock, Izack Rodda, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Rob Simmons, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Jordan Uelese