Amidst the furore of the hosts England being knocked out of their own World Cup, the impressive nature of Australia’s win won’t go unnoticed.
Just one year after losing three out of four of their autumn tour games of Europe, Australia asserted their credentials last Saturday as genuine World Cup contenders. As the eternal sporting competitors, should we really have expected anything different from Australia?
Ahead of Saturday’s table-topping clash with Wales, Australia couldn’t have prepared much better. Facing a side they haven’t lost to since 2008, the Wallabies will be massively confident of setting up a likely quarter-final clash with Scotland.
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Having already sustained numerous injuries to key players, ordinarily Warren Gatland may look at resting a few players for the Australia game. However, with the loser set to face South Africa in the quarter-final and New Zealand thereafter, Wales must look to galvanise themselves again and overturn their dismal record against the southern hemisphere nations.
Australia do have their own absentees to worry about with flanker Michael Hooper suspended for his clear-out on Mike Brown, and backs Rob Horne and Israel Folau doubts through injury. However, the nature of last Saturday’s victory will dispel any doubts that may otherwise have crept into the Wallaby camp.
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Just a year after being dismantled by England, Australia’s scrum produced a dominant display at the weekend, forcing the hosts to cough up five penalties. Historically those wearing the green and gold have always excelled with ball in hand and on the deck but have been let down by shaky foundations in the front five.
However, with Scott Sio’s rapid emergence at loose-head prop along with Mario Ledesma’s influence as a coach, Australia have potentially alleviated their one major flaw. Wales’ scrum struggled against England and without superiority up front the Welsh dragon’s chances of progressing top of the group look slim.
Behind the scrum, Cheika’s men look as dangerous as ever. Bernard Foley produced his best performance in a Wallaby shirt with a faultless kicking display and two tries; compiling a personal haul of 28 points. Outside him, Foley can rely on the hugely experienced Matt Giteau whose maturity and control over proceedings, was crucial in England’s failure to get close to Australia in the second-half.
Tevita Kuridrani was kept quiet last Saturday but his power compliments Foley and Giteau’s guile, whilst Kurtley Beale’s early introduction bought a third playmaker into the Wallaby back line.
With Hooper suspended, Saturday’s game promises to throw up a direct match-up of Sam Warburton and David Pocock and judging by the latter’s form against England, recording three turnovers, the Welsh captain will have his work cut out.
Australia certainly haven’t won anything yet, but with solid foundations seemingly added to their existing areas of excellence, the men in green and gold certainly look to be peaking at the right time.
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