TOUTED as being New Zealand’s most realistic challenger to lift the famous Webb Ellis trophy, it was all going so well for the Wallabies after an efficient if hard-fought win against the Italians on the first weekend of the Rugby World Cup. That was until Ireland pulled off one of the most famous wins in World Cup history. Robbie Deans’ team now face the daunting prospect of probably having to take out South Africa in the quarter-finals, if they are going to progress far in this competition.
Australia clearly underestimated a fired-up Irish team, who totally turned the form-book upside down with a memorable performance based around thunderous intensity and passion upfront. This result has only added to what has been a wonderfully unpredictable start to the World Cup with the big teams having to fight all the way against the supposed ‘minnow’ countries.
There are some serious concerns for the Wallabies which need to be urgently addressed if they are to have realistic ambitions of getting to the final let alone lifting the trophy. The lack of creativity inAustralia’s midfield was glaringly noticeable and surely Drew Mitchell needs to come back onto the wing with Adam Ashley-Cooper and Berrick Barnes to be considered in the centres. The forwards must be a bigger concern for Deans givenIreland’s dominance in the loose and at scrum-time. David Pocock’s absence was keenly felt at the break-down and his health will be as important to the Wallabies as Richie McCaw’s is for the All Blacks.
The lack of snarl and work-rate which was so prevalent in the stunning upset of the All Blacks at Suncorp Stadium last month must be baffling for Deans and his team. So how will the Wallabies get back on track? James Horwill will be under pressure to provide the necessary direction in the coming weeks and experienced heads like Rocky Elsom and David Vickermann must use their experience as the challenges will only increase from here on in.
The last two remaining matches in the pool against the USA and Russia now become very significant for Robbie Deans and his squad. If there is one thing that this tournament has shown is that there are no easy games and the next two weeks will show whether the Australians have what it takes to make a big impact later on in the tournament with the Springboks most likely waiting with eager anticipation in the quarters.
On a side-note, how good is it to see teams like the States, Romania and Canada punching way above their weight against their more renowned opponents? Let’s hope it continues in the remaining few rounds.