In the last of our Rugby World Cup pool previews, today we finally turn our attention to Australia’s Pool D.
The Wallabies face an uphill battle to top a group featuring short-time world No.1 Wales, but will still fancy their chances of reaching the knockout stage ahead of Fiji, Georgia and Uruguay.
It’s hard to get a read on the Wallabies ahead of this year’s World Cup after a whirlwind Rugby Championship and Bledisloe campaign.
If the side that put 47 points on the All Blacks in Perth turns up, the sky’s the limit. If it’s the side that got brushed aside by South Africa and New Zealand, however, it’s hard to see them progressing past the quarter-finals.
Australia also have the unique misfortune of being by far the least-favoured top seed in their group. The difference between a quarter-final against likely Group C winners England and likely runners-up France (or Argentina) is probably the biggest one at the tournament, so it’s particularly crucial they get the group stage right.
The fitness of David Pocock – whose only Test of the year came against Samoa this past weekend – could be the difference between a first or second-place finish.
An undefeated Six Nations campaign saw Wales briefly propelled to the top of the World Rugby rankings, only to fall down to fourth after a recent 22-17 loss to Ireland.
In any case, Warren Gatland’s side enter this tournament perhaps best placed to reach the final for the first time in their history. They will be hoping to at least reach the semi-finals for the first time since their heartbreaking loss to France in 2011.
There are few surprises in the Welsh World Cup squad, although the inclusion of Cory Hill – who is recovering from a fractured leg – has raised some eyebrows. Cardiff’s Jarrod Evans was the most surprising omission, given he started in the Ireland warm-up, but the main blow is a knee injury to flyhalf Gareth Anscombe, ruling the key playmaker out of the tournament.
Fiji are still riding a massive high after finishing 2018 with one of the biggest upsets in international rugby history – a 21-14 victory over France on foreign soil.
Despite a first-up loss to Japan in the Pacific Nations Cup, the Flying Fijians have enjoyed hard-fought wins over Canada, Samoa and Tonga since and will enter the World Cup full of confidence.
Coach John McKee bizarrely named a 32-man squad last month, meaning one player would suffer the ignominy of being the only omission. That unlucky fellow was prop Lee-Roy Atalifo.
They’ll be hoping to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 2007.
As often happens, Georgia romped through the Six Nations B earlier this year, conceding just 34 points across their five matches while scoring 162.
But, when they came up against a ‘proper’ Test nation, they were found out. Scotland put Borjgalosnebi to the sword in the form of a 44-10 win in their recent warm-up.
Georgia are yet to progress from the group stage at the World Cup, but their performances have been steadily better over the journey, improving from no wins in 2003 to one each in 2007 and 2011 and two in 2015.
Sensationally, former captain Mamuka Gorgodze has been named in the squad despite not playing a Test since March 2017.
The Uruguayans surprised in the qualification phase after upsetting Canada in their two-match playoff.
It’s been a mostly superb 2019 for Los Teros, going undefeated throughout the Americas Rugby Championship, although they did go down to Namibia at home in June. Anything but four straight losses in Japan would be a massive surprise, though.
Australia vs Fiji
Saturday, September 21, 2:45pm
The first Group D match has the potential to be a belter with the Wallabies, still unsure of precisely what form they’re in, taking on a Fiji side who’ll be up and about after some strong form in preparation.
Australia should be able to put Fiji away with relative ease, but any cracks – or, unfathomably, a loss – could derail Australia’s World Cup immediately and would send fans and media alike into a frenzy.
Australia vs Wales
Sunday, September 29, 5:45pm
If you only watch one Pool D match, it absolutely has to be this one.
With the top two seeds in Pool D looking to be the closest of the entire group stage, this is easily the most crucial 1 versus 2 match.
The Welsh ended a run of 13 consecutive defeats against the Wallabies in November 2018 and will probably enter this game as favourites due to recent results.
The two played out a thriller in the same stage in 2015, where Australia held on for a memorable win despite having to play with 13 men for a good chunk of time. If we get a repeat of that match this time around, we’ll be in for a treat.
Georgia vs Fiji
Thursday, October 3, 3:15pm
It’s hard to see any of the other three Pool D sides seriously challenging Australia or Wales for a quarter-final spot, although this clash could be an interesting battle for third place.
Fiji deserve favouritism given their superior form in the lead-up to this year’s World Cup, but Georgia have been one of the most consistent improvers on the international stage since debuting at the 2003 World Cup.
A win here would be an enormous fillip for a European nation with their sights on challenging the top dogs.
For the full Pool D schedule, head over to our Rugby World Cup fixture page.
All times AEST/AEDT.
Semi Radradra (Fiji)
Former NRL star Radradra has been superb for Fiji since crossing codes, scoring three tries in five Tests – including a crucial one in the country’s famous win over France.
The 27-year-old is reportedly eyeing a return to rugby league after the World Cup, but he’d be keen as anything to lift his side to new heights while he’s still with them.
Mamuka Gorgodze (Georgia)
The talismanic former skipper has made the most unexpected of returns to international rugby after retiring more than two years ago.
But with the Georgian side smashed by injury, 35-year-old Gorgodze will return for the Lelos as they look to make it out of the group stage.
The man they call ‘Gorgodzilla’ is the leading try-scorer in Georgian history (with 26) and could inspire his younger teammates to greater things in Japan.
Felipe Berchesi (Uruguay)
With 287 points in 32 appearances for his country, the form of the 28-year-old flyhalf will be critical to Uruguay’s competitiveness at the World Cup.
Berchesi scored the entirety of Uruguay’s points in three of their 2015 World Cup matches.
Wales’ rich run of form in 2019 makes them the deserved warm favourites to top Pool D. Australia should have no issues qualifying in second place, with Fiji, Georgia and Uruguay rounding out the group in that order.