Wallabies end the 'blackout'
August 29, 2011
Much will depend on the form of scrum-half Will Genia come the World Cup © Getty Images
By breaking their 10-year Tri Nations drought, the Wallabies have proven the World Cup now has another serious contender. While All Blacks coach Graham Henry said the result of the Tri Nations 'final' would not have a significant bearing on the World Cup, clearly the Wallabies disagreed. They defended like their careers depended on it and for a welcome change took full advantage of their scoring opportunities. Encouragingly, the Wallabies managed to recover from a second half blip to regain the ascendancy and close out the contest, something which has proven difficult in the past.
Yet, the excitement of reclaiming a long lost trophy is accompanied by heightened expectations of what the Wallabies are capable of at the World Cup. The Wallabies have proven they can beat the All Blacks and their aura of invincibility for this World Cup tournament has evaporated. Yes, the All Blacks are favourites and as the world's number one team they deserve to be, but the Wallabies have shown they have what it takes to crash the party.
With a major international trophy now in the swag, it is time for Robbie Deans' three year project to bear fruit. Only an appearance in the final will satisfy the Australian rugby faithful. The apple of the fans' eye is undoubtedly Quade Cooper. While not yet in the same class as Dan Carter, the New Zealand-born flyhalf is capable of absolutely anything on the rugby field. The Wallabies progression through the knock out stages will depend largely on Cooper's composure and decision making under pressure. If he gets it right, the Webb Ellis trophy could be coming back to Sydney for a record third time.
Fortunately for the Wallabies, Cooper was cleared of kneeing Richie McCaw in another off the ball incident on Saturday, leaving him available for the first match against Italy. The incident follows on from Cooper's notorious head shove on the New Zealand captain in the Hong Kong Bledisloe last year and the stoush is a great undercurrent to a rivalry that didn't need any more fuel. The Wallabies, it appears, have finally shrugged off their inferiority complex of the All Blacks and what better time than before a World Cup. The Hong Kong incident may have been in the heat of the battle by an over exuberant young player, but the frequent reference to it since by the All Blacks shows that the Wallabies are well and truly under the skin of a team which just months ago was expected to win the World Cup at a canter.
But the Wallabies must first churn out the results against Italy, Ireland, USA and Russia in Pool C. It would seem only Ireland looms as a major threat to the Wallabies securing safe passage as group winners into the quarter-finals. However, the Irish come into the tournament on the back of a terrible run of results, having lost to England, Scotland and France twice in the past month.
Italy pose as a potential banana-skin encounter at North Harbour stadium in the Wallabies opening match on September 11, yet the Azzurri shouldn't pose too many problems for a Wallabies team on their game. USA and Russia will provide good match time for the squad players and will hopefully run the likes of Drew Mitchell, Berrick Barnes, Rob Horne, James Slipper and Tatafu Polota-Nau back into form after injury.
If the seedings go to plan, the Wallabies could expect to avoid South Africa and play Wales, Fiji or Samoa in the quarter finals. With a New Zealand-based World Cup providing the Pacific island nations with their best chance of success in the tournament, don't bet against a rematch with Samoa on October 8, less than three months after they stunned a second-string Wallabies in Sydney.
The Wallabies previous World Cup victories featured world-class players at the peak of their powers. In 1991, the Wallabies had David Campese and Nick Farr-Jones among a very strong squad. In 1999, the Wallabies were arguably even better with the likes of John Eales, George Gregan and Stephen Larkham, all the premier Test players of their generation. Twelve years on, the Wallabies can boast yet another scrum half the envy of international Test rugby in the form of Will Genia. Man of the match in the Wallabies victory on Saturday, Genia was head and shoulders better than All Blacks opposite Piri Weepu.
Genia is arguably more important to the Wallabies than the headline-hogging Cooper, such is the danger of his powerful running from the base of the ruck and improved kicking game.
The Wallabies also bring the world's best in-form flanker in David Pocock. While Richie McCaw deservedly retains an aura for his longevity and influence in the Test arena, Pocock brings a dynamic edge to the Wallabies back row and his pilfering abilities are unmatched. He has the type of aggression and hunger the Wallabies are often criticised for lacking and despite being only 23-years of age, he is one of the Wallabies on-field leaders.
One of the key reasons for the Wallabies falling away in the middle part of last decade was the loss of Eales, both the player and the captain. New skipper James Horwill is cut from the same cloth as the Wallabies' greatest ever leader and will seek to provide the same on-field inspiration as Eales did in his generation. Having already captained the Reds to the Super Rugby title, winning the Tri Nations trophy in his first match as Australian captain, can Horwill lead the Wallabies to another World Cup triumph? The answer begins on Sunday week.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Concussion, relegation and the mother of all surprises - it's the Monday Maul.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies