I think that the Wallabies are shaping to become a serious powerhouse in world rugby over the next three to four years, certainly in time for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
In fact I am going to be so bold as to say that they have got the best shot of a team peaking at exactly the right time for that competition.
Bear with me.
Let’s consider the position when Robbie Deans first took the Wallabies on in 2008 – this was his squad.
If you scan that players list you will notice a fair number of the current crop of players missing. If you ever wanted some evidence of Robbie Deans’ emphasis (and requirement) on rebuilding Australian rugby (after it arguably rested on its laurels leading into 2007 Rugby World Cup) that squad list is proof.
Deans has brought in Genia, Cooper, Hooper, Gill, Beale, O’Connor, Timani, etc. from scratch. On top of that he has supported these players from that 2008 squad who at the time had: Alexander uncapped, Burgess uncapped, Ioane one cap, Berrick Barnes four caps, Adam Ashley-Cooper 12 caps, Tatafu Polota-Nau three caps and James Horwill one cap.
It is reasonable to expect that in the intermediate period, the Wallabies would have performed abysmally and would struggle.
But what Robbie has managed to do is build some seriously enviable depth and still manage an ok record with a bunch of developing players.
So, let’s take a look at the likely 2015 World Cup squad (including backups) and see how Robbie has implemented a franchise-like depth to the Wallabies:
1. Ben Alexander (46 caps)/Sekope Kepu (21 )/Dan Palmer (one)
2. Tatafu Polota-Nau (43)/Stephen Moore (74)/Saia Fainga’a (19)/ James Hanson (one)
3. Benn Robinson (54)/James Slipper (32)/Paddy Ryan (one)
4. James Horwill (35)/ Rob Simmons (23)
5. Kane Douglas (four)/Caderyn Neville/Sitaleki Timani (nine)
6. Dave Dennis (13)/Radike Samo (23)/Scott Higginbotham (21)/Ita Vaea/Hugh McMeniman (21)
7. David Pocock (45)/Michael Hooper(11)/Liam Gill(8)
8. Wycliff Palu (44)/Ben McCalman (21) /Richard Brown (23)
9. Will Genia (42)/Nick Phipps (10)
10. Kurtley Beale (34) /Berrick Barnes (48) (with Matt Toomua/Christian Lealiafano in the wings)
11. Digby Ioane (32)/Nick Cummins (four)/Drew Mitchell (61)/Lachie Turner (15)/Dom Shipperly (three)
12. Pat McCabe (19)/Ben Tapuai (four)/James O’Connor(37)/Chris Feauai-Sautia (if you don’t know him google him – he is the next big thing)
13. Rob Horne (14)/Adam Ashley-Cooper (75)/Anthony Fainga’a (23)
14. Joe Tomane(one)/Cooper Vuna (two)/Rod Davies (one)
15. Mike Harris (seven)/Luke Morahan (one)
If you pick the players now with close to 40 or more caps, and then throw in some up and coming talent, such as Tomane, Sautia, Lealifano, I have added 40 caps for roughly four years of Test rugby (lowered the number to account for injuries etc) to their current totals.
That is the next Rugby World Cup champion team. That team would have 22 players with a total of 1381 caps with an average of 62 caps per player. That is the sort of experience you need to win the World Cup.
Will just be a shame that some other coach (please don’t let it be Ewen McKenzie) will reap the benefits of this development of experience and commitment to youth that has epitomised Robbie’s reign.
Yes indeed, the Wallabies truly are maturing like a fine wine – and it will now be the All Blacks turn over the next few years to see how their own youngsters perform (as the Wallabies already had to endure their ten straight losses when blooding against an All Blacks team which was largely unchanged from 2007).
I look forward to the battles between Beauden Barrett and an established James O’Connor for example, or Sam Cane taking on David Pocock.