Having reviewed New Zealand, and England, Cameron Gray continues looks at how the runners and riders are faring for RWC 2015 with Australia
A quick glance at the win (7)/loss (8) ratio makes for poor reading for Australia. For a nation that reached the semi-finals of the 2011 RWC their rugby public is rightly entitled to better.
Results and statistics can sometimes cloud the picture a little though. Had Kurtley Beale knocked over one of two kicks in the first Lions Test Robbie Deans may still have a door to an office bearing his name in St Leonards.
Rightly or wrongly his time as Australia coach ended at the conclusion of that Lions series, but apart from the third Test his men were up to their eyeballs in it.
When Ewen McKenzie was installed, confirming the worst kept secret since Y2K, tough stances were taken. James O’Connor found himself on an early sabbatical to the UK with London Irish and McKenzie’s right hand man at the Reds, Will Genia, rode the pine for a while as McKenzie looked to invigorate his team.
As Australia landed at Heathrow James Horwill awoke to find Ben Mowen wearing the captain’s armband as McKenzie sent out a warning that no one was exempt from the axe.
His side seemed to respond in kind. Apart from the England game where Australia were on the end of some dubious decisions they were reaching the form they are capable of, winning their last four games in a style that bodes well for 2014.
Was there a better match-up in 2013 than Israel Folau versus George North? Both scored tries that you’d happily watch over and over on a highlights reel.
Folau would arguably be the most lethal back in world rugby although Ben Smith and Julian Savea might also lay claims to that title.
He’s fast, elusive and marks the high ball like no other. If the Wallabies can get him into space, opposition teams might have to sound the warning bell for all hands on deck.
Michael Hooper is another with talent to burn. With David Pocock back in action Hooper will need to lift his game to new levels to keep the ‘veteran’ at bay.
He’ll need to be more selective about what breakdowns he competes at. Penalties could be crucial at RWC 2015, especially in the ‘pool of death’. Hooper has the full armoury though, good hands, strength and the speed of a back – just ask Israel Dagg.
Gain parity or better up front and feed the backs in the wide channels.
McKenzie had his team firing under a closed roof in Dunedin giving the ball plenty of air which troubled New Zealand. They still came up short but this blueprint served them well.
In Tevita Kuridrani they have a genuine line-breaking centre who can trouble defences. He was a handful in Dunedin and showed some good touches. If he can get over the gain line creating second phase ball for Folau the world will be their oyster.
Australia possess one of the world’s most destructive players in Israel Folau. If he gets clean, front-foot ball it will be curtains for most teams. He’ll find himself a marked man in 2014 but based on 2013 form it will take a good defence to subdue him.
Of the top five teams Australia look to have the most improvement in them which will leave a few opposition coaches hoping it’s not their team who cop an Australian team firing on all cylinders.
Conceded the most penalties and free kicks, according to IRB statistics, in the 2013 Rugby Championship. McKenzie will need to find a way to make his team more disciplined if they want to advance out of the ‘pool of death’ in RWC 2015. If they continue this trend two Lions in Owen Farrell and Leigh Halfpenny will kick them out of the competition.