For the Wallabies, This Year Is Decisive for the World Cup

James MortimerAnalyst IMarch 4, 2010

CARDIFF, WALES - NOVEMBER 28:  Matt Giteau of Australia kicks the ball downfield during the Invesco Perpetual Series match between Wales and Australia at the Millennium Stadium on November 28, 2009 in Cardiff, Wales.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
David Rogers/Getty Images

In 2010, there will be usual interest in various tours, who wins the Six Nations and Tri Nations, and whether potentially the All Blacks and Springboks can achieve a touring Grand Slam.

But beyond it all will be how the big nations build towards a crucial World Cup countdown.

Naturally, it is too far out even to begin to accurately predict who will be at Eden Park when the final is played out amidst tremendous expectation.

Most interest will focus on the All Blacks, playing a World Cup on home soil for the first time in 24 years, when they also won their first and only William Webb Ellis Cup. 

Soothsayers will make statements about choking.  Expectations of the men in black are always high, but on home soil these could potentially be all consuming.

Others will boast that, with the lessons learnt, players such as Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, and being on home soil, will ensure that the world’s current best team will be all but impossible to beat.

Either way, if a team is only as good as their last test match (defeating France 39-12 at Marseille), then the All Blacks are in very fine shape.

Other contenders seem strong as well.

South Africa, despite their well publicised fatigue, are reigning champions and were essentially the unchallenged Goliath of world rugby last year. 

France seems to be approaching a Six Nations title, and the two-time runners-up will believe they are due.  Ireland is strong, and while nations such as England, Wales, and Argentina are somewhat mixed quantities after being inconsistent in the last year, they should be able to mount some form of credible contest.

But the biggest question, right now, remains over the Wallabies. How will the most successful World Cup team in the world fare?

Surely their performances over the last two years would ensure most people would be wary of backing the two-time winners and one-time runners-up. 

Under Deans they have won only 15 of 28 matches, hardly an awe inspiring record.

They haven’t won the second most important trophy in world rugby (for the Southern Hemisphere at least), the Tri Nations, since 2001.

And since 2003, despite reaching the World Cup final, they have not held the other barometer for Australian rugby success, the Bledisloe Cup.

On that note, that will be the most crucial order of business for Robbie Deans and the Wallabies this year.  They sit on a seven-match losing streak against the All Blacks, and will not want to concede the Bledisloe Cup for the eighth straight year.

They play the All Blacks four times in 2009, and have a favourable draw.  They play two matches against the All Blacks in Australia, and their one match away is as close a home ground as the Wallabies could have in New Zealand—being in Deans’ old stomping ground in Christchurch.

The fourth game in Asia is in neutral territory.

To knock off their Trans-Tasman rivals must be their biggest priority, to ensure that they have some belief that they can beat the side that will likely enter Rugby World Cup 2011 as favourites. 

If the All Blacks do whitewash the Wallabies in 2010, it will set a new record for consecutive wins, with the current best streak standing at nine matches, achieved from 1936 to 1947.

First Australia will host Fiji, England twice, and then Ireland.

They then play the Tri Nations, before playing a fourth Bledisloe against the All Blacks in Asia, and so far there are confirmed matches against England and Wales in the end of year tour.

Most of the platforms are there, with plenty on display to show they can compete with the best.  But most importantly they must form a winning habit, with a six from 14 win record last year not enough to inspire the confidence the team requires.

Up front, the Wallabies scrum and front row stocks seem to be building into one of the more formidable units in world rugby.  However, this appears to have come at the expense of the lineout, with the green and gold aerial attack stuttering throughout the year.

In the loose they look strong, with Deans ushering in a new generation via players such as David Pocock, Richard Brown, and of course with a new captain in Rocky Elsom.  The absence of George Smith may be a factor, but the cattle are there.

In the playmaking axis, the Wallabies are beginning to look a threat again, with Will Genia emerging as a class scrumhalf, and backline generals aplenty in the form of Matt Giteau, Berrick Barnes, and Quade Cooper, as well as emerging players such as James O’Connor.

Crucial here will be balance.

Deans favours a first five/second five style combination as is the New Zealand way (although ironically the All Blacks now play more of a power option—Ma’a Nonu—at second receiver).

Matt Giteau must be in the team, but question marks remain over what his best position is.

In the three quarters the Wallabies look solid if not spectacular, but strike weapons like Digby Ioane will keep the Australian blade sharp.

Some may believe results are irrelevant, and as history has shown—somewhat painfully to All Blacks teams in the past—all the form in the world can count for nothing when it comes to the four yearly elimination cycle that are the World Cup quarter, semi, and grand finals.

But for the Wallabies this year, they will want to lay a marker, to ensure that in their own belief at least, they can compete in and against New Zealand this year and the next.