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'How much does Australian rugby want to learn from the world?': Why you've got to stay tuned into World Cup

9th October, 2023
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9th October, 2023
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Here’s a hot take to kick off a column: Australian rugby fans tuning out of the Rugby World Cup now are only going to punish themselves.

The Wallabies, of course, were ‘all but’ out of contention heading into the final weekend of pool matches, and their rugby purgatory was officially ended – not without drama – in Toulouse on Sunday night.

But knowing all this coming into the weekend, I think I was looking forward to the rugby more than at any point of the tournament so far. Why? Because suddenly I could watch what was always going to be fantastic rugby with no emotional angst or stress.

And I wasn’t disappointed. It was as thoroughly enjoyable as I hoped it would be.

Wales and Georgia turned out to be a surprisingly good contest. Wales were never really in danger of losing, but Georgia sure as hell made them work for it. It might be the sort of hit-out Wales will be very thankful for next week.

Samoa very nearly brought the first upset of the tournament, and had they have managed it, it would only have made Owen Farrell being timed out of a penalty goal attempt because he was too busy arguing a point with referee Andrew Brace all the funnier.

But for the avoidance of doubt, Samoa have been a touch disappointing so far, to my viewing at least, with their performances not really matching their promise coming into the tournament. But pushing England as far as they did definitely amplifies the argument that the supposed ‘Tier 2’ teams definitely do need more scheduling assistance from World Rugby.

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Jordan Petaia, Mark Nawaqanitawase and Andrew Kellaway of Australia looks dejected as the players of Australia form a huddle at full-time following the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between Wales and Australia at Parc Olympique on September 24, 2023 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The Wallabies following their World Cup loss to Wales in Lyon. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The mooted Nations Championship being conveniently ring-fenced until 2030 at the earliest isn’t a great look either.

Ireland and Scotland was every bit the cracker we all hoped it would be.

The mostly South African conspiracy theories were amusing during the week, what with the references to the Celts joining forces on the battlefield to double-cross a tyrant Braveheart style, and the acknowledged irony of Nic Berry being placed in charge of a game that could impact the Springboks indirectly.

But the theories were dented early when James Lowe crossed in the second minute, wounded significantly when Hugo Keenan scored a wonderful set-piece try in the same corner in the 26th minute, and finished off mercifully when Ireland scored twice more before the break to lead 24-0 at halftime.

A reminder, tinfoil hats can be recycled, ‘Boks fans.

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Keenan had a double by oranges, but the aforementioned 26th minute try came from some simply beautiful play, featuring connection between flyhalf and midfield not seen in Australian colours at all this season, and a pair of offloads from Bundee Aki and Gary Ringrose that – to use a cliché very well-worn this last month – should both be hung in the Louvre.

Ireland’s defence was suffocating, their breakdown work overbearing, and their lineout impenetrable – a significant point to note considering how very hold and cold it had been through the early pool games. It will face an even sterner test now, in earning a Quarter Final date with New Zealand next Saturday night.

Emiliano Boffelli celebrates after scoring his team’s fourth try against Japan at Stade de la Beaujoire on October 08, 2023 in Nantes. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Argentina produced their best performance of the tournament to progress from Pool D, and they needed to, because Japan also produced their best performance of the tournament to almost stop them. In a truly intriguing contest, both teams looked at different points like they would go on with the job and/or completely both it.

It the end, Mateo Carreras completing his hat-trick was the catalyst for Argentina to skip far enough ahead, setting up a really interesting Quarter Final clash with Wales in Marseille on Saturday evening.

Did I say without the stress?

That was the case right up until the point chaos broke out in Toulouse, where after Fiji and Portugal went to the sheds locked at three-all, three converted tries and a yellow card in eight minutes turned a thoroughly gripping contest on its head while simultaneously waking Australia up from its rugby slumber.

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Could Os Lobos actually win this? Never mind, Fiji is back. No, they’re not, Portugal is back in front. Nope, Fiji is in again. And now they’ve kicked a penalty. And another one. Oh well, might as well have some breakfast.

Wait, WHAT IS HAPPENING?!? Raffaele Storti scoots into space down the short side, finds his mate Rodrigo Marta who SCORES!! Can they actually win this?

Yes, they can, Samuel Marques converts from out wide! PORTUGAL WIN!!

But not by enough. Remember the maths? The cruellest of irony was always going to involve Portugal beating Fiji for the first real upset of RWC 2023, but not by enough for the Wallabies to limp through, tail between their legs and with a growing injury list.

Raffaele Storti of Portugal scored his team’s first try against Fiji at Stadium de Toulouse on October 08, 2023 in Toulouse. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

So here we are. The Wallabies are on their way home or wherever their end-of-season trips takes them, Eddie Jones may or may not stopover in Japan, and Australian coverage of the remainder of the tournament is now at the behest and the generosity of editors.

Jones has discovered this already when he spoke to less than half a dozen (and almost certainly only Australian) journos at the Wallabies resumption of training late last week.

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But for fans who’ve been crying out for great rugby to watch, now is actually the time to tune in properly.

These next three weeks are going to feature the kind of rugby that Australia had the players to be part of as recently as July, but not the selection patience by August to preserve.

The various levels of state scepticism, anguish and distrust now in play around the centralisation plans are a flow-on from this dramatic and severe case of self-harm.

But while Australian rugby enters a new era of shooting itself in the foot, the Rugby World Cup will only get better from here.

The question then becomes, how much does Australian rugby want to learn from the rest of the world?

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