After two hard-fought wins against the Springboks and Argentina, the Wallabies have a real opportunity to win the Rugby Championship in Sydney next week, provided they don’t start believing their own press.
The secret to winning Test matches is pretty simple really. Whichever team works the hardest for the longest period usually wins. New Zealand has traditionally been the hardest working team and consequently the most successful.
While the All Blacks remain the deserved favourite, there is a growing optimism across Wallaby supporters that perhaps the Wallabies are emerging once again as a real force.
Irrespective of the outcome of these next two Tests, the Wallabies can be confident in the fact that they have strengthened their depth, the importance of which cannot be overstated. Anyone who watched the Wallabies defeat Argentina could see that the Argentinian bench players were not of the same quality as the starting XV. Consequently, the score blew out in the final stage of the match.
To date Wallabies Coach Michael Cheika has managed his squad well, and the starting XV is beginning to become evident, while the bench players can more than hold their own when they take to the park.
While my hope is always that the Wallabies win every match they play, it would still be nice to see an underdog rise up during the Rugby World Cup and have a shot at the crown.
Is this likely? Sadly, the answer is no.
These are the pools:
Pool A – Australia, England, Wales, Fiji, Uruguay
Pool B – South Africa, Samoa, Japan, Scotland, USA
Pool C – New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga, Georgia, Namibia
Pool D – France, Ireland, Italy, Canada, Romania
Pool A is arguably the most difficult of the four pools, with Fiji and Uruguay no chance of going through to the quarter finals. The top-two teams go through in each pool, so Australia, Wales and England are in a fight to the death in the early stages, with one to be eliminated.
Fiji suffers from a simple problem: they lack discipline in the forwards and always have done so. I recall playing against them many years ago and our strategy was to ‘bore them to death’ by keeping the ball in the forwards and playing a tight game by forcing them to commit to rucks and mauls. The more scrums and lineouts the better, as these are things that the Fijians hate – and consequently are not very good at. They want to run – and if they get enough balls they can cause any side in the world grief. However, their tight forward play sucks.
At best Fiji, and to a lesser extent Uruguay, can play a spoiler role. Uruguay, or ‘Los Teros‘ as they are known, are ranked 19th in the world – and for good reason. They have never beaten Argentina in 46 outings, so it is most unlikely that they are going to set the world on fire in 2015. They have played Fiji twice in their history and have not beaten them either, so while they have done well to get to the World Cup, their chances of getting any further are 1000 to 1.
Pool B sees Samoa, Japan, Scotland and the USA fighting it out for second spot. Samoa is ranked ninth, Scotland is ranked 11, Japan 13 and USA 16th.
Samoa are the most likely to take second spot, and are probably the only side seriously capable of challenging South Africa for top of the pool. Samoa’s chances of some success have increased as a result of their players playing professionally in Europe and this is evident in the quality of their play. Unlike Tonga and Fiji, Samoa have got their act together, and without doubt are the most formidable of the Pacific Island teams.
Scotland will be technically sound, but may lack the firepower needed across the park to progress.
Pool C will be a walk in the park for New Zealand. Argentina should go through, but could be challenged by Tonga if the Tongans get properly organised. Georgia and Namibia have no chance.
Pool D should be relatively straightforward, with Ireland a shoe-in for the top spot. Italy, Canada and Romania will be trying to disrupt France’s chances of coming in at Number 2. Unlikely but possible.
So, the quarter final teams could well be:
2. England or Wales
3. South Africa
5. New Zealand
If that’s the case, the likely quarter final contestants are:
QF 1 – South Africa vs England
QF 2 – New Zealand vs France
QF 3 – Ireland vs Argentina
QF 4 – Australia vs Samoa
Semi-finals will see the following games:
SF 1 – Winner QF1 v Winner QF2
SF 2 – Winner QF3 v Winner QF4
Chances are South Africa will be playing New Zealand, although the latter always seems to struggle against France, who saves their best performances for the men in black.
Nevertheless, New Zealand has a tremendous side with enormous depth once again, and will be the team to beat.
South Africa are coming into great form and provided they do not have a brain explosion and manage their bench a lot better than they did against the Wallabies in the last Test, they can topple England, who will be a tough nut to crack.
Ireland should play Australia, although Samoa is not to be underestimated. Argentina have a snowflake’s chance in hell of advancing any further than the quarter-finals, assuming they get that far. My only suggestion is that they pray for a miracle – they are going to need it.
Ireland on the other hand are the real dark horses. They are traditionally very tough for Wallaby teams to beat, as many past international players will attest. The current Irish squad is a very good one, and they did not become the Six Nations champions for the last two years by accident.
While it is anyone’s guess, I would not be surprised to see a New Zealand vs Australia final at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, although that is not to say the Wallabies do not have their own Achilles heel. They need to improve their general kicking game considerably, and ensure that the first person on the plane is their best goal kicker, followed by their next best goal-kicker.