The Wallabies will win the 2015 Rugby World Cup. I know there are few who share my optimism, given the Wallabies’ recent uninspiring results, the problems in-house at ARU headquarters, and the extreme toughness of our World Cup pool.
But between our progress on the field and our successful history of World Cups in the Northern Hemisphere, we can once again ‘bring back Bill’.
Obviously there has to be more reasons than what’s happened in the past to convince people that this is the Wallaby side which will win our third World Cup.
Given that the 2015 edition is shaping up to be the most competitive to date, with the top-six sides in the world boasting squads and individuals capable of taking their team to victory, a number of bricks have to be in place to create a solid winning formula and foundation.
A year older, a year wiser
There is no shying away from the fact that we have a young team, most of whom will be competing in their first ever World Cup. We also have the youngest Test captain in Michael Hooper, one of our most consistent and best performers over the last six months.
While his commitment and consistency is unquestionable, he is relatively new at leading a team, and at making the tough on-field decisions that go with wearing the armband. Declining penalty kicks at goal in the recent Rugby Championship pointed to the inexperience of our 23-year-old captain, suggesting the need for an older leader, but Hooper has my vote.
Not only does he have the respect of those more experienced players, he represents a changing Wallaby side, not willing to take a backwards step and take their game to the opposition.
To put it bluntly, he represents a group who have the balls to back themselves, regardless of the consequences.
He also will be a year older, as will the fresh faces in the Wallaby squad like Tevita Kuridrani, Henry Speight, and Sean McMahon to name a few. A spring tour, another Super Rugby season, and Rugby Championship under their belt will have these young players better prepared for a shot at the title.
The pressure is on the home nations
We all witnessed the intense pressure that the Kiwis were under from their fans and media at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand. Although they won the championship, it was an unconvincing stumble over the line against France in the final, and the full-time whistle brought immediate feelings of relief rather than jubilation.
There is no doubt that we have the toughest of all pools, having to play both Wales and England at Twickenham, even before thinking about what’s to come in the knockout stages. But like the All blacks, the weight of the nation will be on our opponents’ shoulders, and the expectation and pressure might prove to be too much.
The Wallabies will be under pressure too, but being away from home means being away from the local media.
For a side littered with players whose short careers have at times been chastised by the papers, being ‘out of the bubble’ allows them to concentrate on on-field matters, rather than be concerned that they are constantly being watched off it.
We are not peaking too early
If the World Cup were to kick off tomorrow, I wouldn’t be proclaiming that we could win it.
Given the problems currently taking place at the ARU, the friction over the Kurtley Beale/Di Patson saga, the sudden exit of Ewen McKenzie, and the recent injury list that saw Will Genia and Quade Cooper only return at the weekend’s game against the Barbarians, there is no way we would be able to overturn a team like the All Blacks, even if we did make it to the final.
There have been signs though, during the Rugby Championship and the last games under McKenzie, that we are creating more attacking chances and line breaks, just failing to put the finishing touches and converting them into points.
Given the way the Waratahs played this season, it is a fair assumption Michael Cheika will keep this intent to attack and take the game to the opposition. He has just under a year to get the players familiar to his game plan, so that they are all on the same page come September next year.
As mentioned, the recent return of injured players like Genia and Cooper are key to our success, as it takes more than the 15 players who start the game to win a World Cup. By this time next year, they will have hopefully had an injury-free 10 months, and provide healthy competition to the incumbent halves pairing of Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley.
No one knows what will happen over the next 10 months leading up to the World Cup. We would love to have a crystal ball to foresee which players will be in the best form and those who unfortunately succumb to injury, so that we could make the necessary plans now so as to be better prepared.
What we can do though, is control the controllables. Get things right off the field, as well as build on the positive on-field signs that I’ve mentioned, to give us the best possible chance to win our third World Cup.
The best thing is there is still time. Let’s not waste it.