As a caveat, I’d like to clearly state I am excited about the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
I believe the Wallabies can win it, but I’m well aware most people don’t. It certainly seems that most Australian rugby fans would just be happy for the Wallabies to make the semis, or at least make it out of the pool games.
But for those struggling to look forward to this year’s tournament, I can only suggest looking a little further forward to 2023. This will be the moment Australian rugby comes of age.
The obvious inference is that I’m merely expecting our Junior Wallabies to replicate their recent tournament success at the senior event four years later, and this is partly true. But there are also a number of our current Wallabies team who should be hitting their peak in 2023.
The average age of the 2015 world champion All Blacks was 29. Crunching the numbers on this year’s Wallabies and the average comes out at about 27, however that’s still deceptive.
Comparing the average ages of the forwards versus the backs gives us a better idea why the future is looking good for the green and gold.
The average age of the backs equals out to just under 29, and that’s with the outlier – 19-year-old Jordan Petaia – included in the mix.
The forwards, however – positions that are historically suited to more mature players – come out at an average of 26. This includes Rod Simmons and David Pocock.
Our pack is young, but already full of experience. Izack Rodda (23), Lukhan Salakaia-Loto (22) and Taniela Tupou (23) are already part of the furniture in the Wallabies dressing room. But these players could feasibly be playing rugby for another ten years.
Jordan Uelese (22) and Rob Valentini (20) are two players whose impact so far has been hindered by injury, but they too could have at least another two World Cups in them.
Isi Naisarani (24) and Allan Alaalatoa (25) will be the elder statesmen of the pack in four years if they’re still there, but they certainly won’t be too old by any measure.
Amongst the current back line, only Jordan Petaia (19) and potentially Reece Hodge (25) are likely to still be in green and gold when the 2023 tournament kicks off in France.
There is, however, plenty of talent coming through.
Isaac Lucas (20) and Semisi Tupou (20) are both already impressing in the Super Rugby, whilst this weekend in the NRC, a number of young fly halfs – including Noah Lolesio (19) and Will Harrison (20) – will ensure there is plenty of competition for the playmaking duties in the years to come.
Add to this the impressive list of Junior Wallaby forwards like Fraser McReight (20), Esei Ha’angana (20), Nick Frost (20), and Angus Bell (20), there will be plenty of competition for those already in the Wallabies pack.
There is every chance that the Wallabies can shock everyone at this year’s tournament, but if they don’t, whoever inherits the coaching duties from Michael Cheika will benefit from his trust in youth.
Whilst it is popular to lament Cheika, he may be owed some credit when the young players he has blooded reach their mid-20s.
Hope can be a dangerous thing for a Wallabies fan, but there is every reason to hope that a new golden age is just around the corner.