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Rugby World Cup 2023 Team Preview: Australia

Rugby World Cup 2023 Team Preview: Australia - Absolute Rugby

Matthew Buckland |

With the Rugby World Cup coming up very soon, it seems a good time to take a look at the major teams involved in the competition. So let’s take a look at the two-time world champion Wallabies, who head into this tournament with a very familiar head coach.

Australia heading into the tournament

There is one main story line which has dominated the headlines when we’re talking about Australian rugby over the last 12 months. While it seemed like Dave Rennie would lead this team into the tournament, things changed when Eddie Jones was sacked by England at the end of 2022.

Rennie was relieved of his position and Australian Rugby decided to put Eddie Jones back into the seat more than 17 years after he had left Australia. Dave Rennie was not leading this team in the wrong direction and a lot of the media believed that the sacking was slightly harsh.

But Australia will know that Eddie Jones has a brilliant record in Rugby World Cups and he has been able to improve teams considerably in a short amount of time.

Things have not looked too positive early on. At the time of writing, things really could not have gone much worse for Australia in the Rugby Championship in the build up to the World Cup.

Despite scoring the first try against South Africa in Pretoria, they were on the end of a massive loss against the Springboks. Australia really struggled to stop South Africa in attack and they could barely reply themselves. In what was supposed to be a bounce back game against Argentina, Australia were on the back of an embarrassing loss.

Having scored what they thought was the winning try in the 75th minute, Australia could not stop Juan Martin Gonzalez from crossing over in the 78th minute to give Argentina a historic win in Sydney. It was also the first time that Australia had lost back to back games against Argentina.

Even before Eddie Jones came in, Australia were struggling with poor results. Even their good performances were not quite enough, losing close games to Ireland and New Zealand last year. Wallabies fans also had to watch as England won a series in Australia 2-1 last summer.

With a lot of inconsistency in team selection, this Australian team is difficult to predict but they have to occasional brilliant game where everything clicks. Overall, the expectations on this team are not particularly high. Australian fans will hope that their warm up games against the All Blacks and France can show that Australia can compete against the top teams.

Australia’s XV for the tournament

Much like the England team, Australia are a difficult team to pick because they have a brand new head coach. A lot of these selections are going to have to be based off the limited games we have seen Jones in charge. There are a huge amount of difficult positions to pick.

It starts in the front row where while James Slipper position is set, his two partners are difficult to pick. While Folau Fainga’a was the preferred choice last year, Jones has demoted him to the Australian A side and gone for Dave Porecki instead. Tighthead is a similarly difficult position to pick.

While Allan Alaalatoa is the starter at the time of writing, Im sure Jones will find it hard to ignore a fully healthy Taniela Tupou. One of the first things Eddie Jones did when he became coach was bring Will Skelton back to the national team. His partner is hard to judge, as Jones can choose from Richie Arnold, Nick Frost, Jed Holloway, Matt Philip and Darcy Swain.

Similarly to how he did with England, Jones so far has opted for a lock at six. Jed Holloway has been the preferred option although Jones could look for some more speed and turnover ability with players like Tom Hooper or Fraser McReight.

Nine and ten seem to be pretty set, just like most of the backline. At 13 there is an interesting dilemma because Len Ikitau was the normal starter. But in the team’s loss to Argentina, Ikitau dislocated his shoulder. While Jordan Petaia seems the most obvious option, Jones has spoken glowingly about Izaia Perese as Australia’s 13.

It seemed a certainty that Tom Wright would start for Australia. He had come back brilliantly from his broken arm last year, but the good form he had showed with the Brumbies did not continue on for Australia. Jones dropped Wright for the Bledisloe game, so picking who will start at 15 is very difficult.

I think that Jones will realise that Wright is the best option, although he could be persuaded to go with Rebels Fullback Andrew Kellaway. Youngster Mark Nawaqanitawase will be a headache for opposing defences.

1.James Slipper-Brumbies

2.Dave Porecki-Waratahs

3.Taniela Tupou-Reds

4.Will Skelton-La Rochelle

5.Richie Arnold-Toulouse

6.Jed Holloway-Waratahs

7.Michael Hooper-Waratahs

8.Rob Valentini-Brumbies

9.Nic White-Brumbies

10.Quade Cooper-Hanazono Liners

11.Marika Koroibete-Saitama Wild Knights

12.Samu Kerevi-Urayasu D-Rocks

13.Izaia Perese-Waratahs

14.Mark Nawaqanitawase-Waratahs

15.Tom Wright-Brumbies

 

Players to look out for in this squad

Will Skelton is a brilliant addition back into this Wallabies team. He has been in brilliant form for La Rochelle. His physical presence is something that this Australian team has often been missing. Skelton needs to be the answer for other teams biggest players and he needs to be active in both attack and defence.

In a tournament where number eights will play a massive role, Rob Valetini needs to be at his destructive best. The Brumbies back rower is going into his first Rugby World Cup with a lot to prove. While it seems certain he is the future of the back row for the Wallabies, Valetini needs to be able to break through some of the best defences in the world.

Quade Cooper will want to have a brilliant final world cup with this Australian side. The Wallabies have really missed some superstar quality at fly-half the last couple years, so Cooper coming back into the team could be a massive move for this Australian side.

Cooper will need the talent outside of him to be brilliant. Samu Kerevi has a reputation for being one of the hardest inside centres to tackle and Kerevi needs to be able to break through the biggest defences in the world. Similarly, Australia have a very exciting wing partnership who have size, speed and power in abundance.

Australia’s path to winning the tournament

There might not have been any team in the world who have been blessed more by the draw taking place three years ago than Australia. Their group contains Wales and Fiji, both very beatable teams at the moment. Wales were ranked higher than Australia when the draw took place, but it would be a massive disappointment for the Wallabies if they lost to Warren Gatland’s side.

Things should be winnable in the quarter-finals as well. Opposite Australia is teams like Argentina, Japan or England. None of these teams are levels above Australia and so Eddie Jones could have an easy road to the semi-final. The issue is, things do get very difficult at the semi-final stage.

With the Springboks or New Zealand waiting in the final four stage, it seems unlikely that Australia will be able to make it back to the world cup final, just as they did eight years ago. The Wallabies would need players to become international superstars overnight and the form they have previously showed would need to change.

It seems pretty much impossible for Australia to actually win the world cup for the first time in the 21st century. The countries hope relies on the fact that Eddie Jones has a brilliant record with coaching team’s at the Rugby World Cup. Jones could produce a miracle at this tournament.

What are Australia’s chances of winning the Rugby World Cup?

Eight years on from falling to one of the best All Black teams of all time, Australia have a mountain to climb if they want to be world cup champions. The team’s chances of getting to the semi-finals is pretty high. Anything less than that would be a disappointment for Eddie Jones side.

But the chance of making it further seems to be a lot more unlikely. They would need to beat one of the top four teams in the world to make it to the final. That is an incredibly difficult thing to do for this Australian team, particularly without any home advantage.

In an one off game anything can happen and Australia came close to beating Ireland and New Zealand last year, as well as having a win over the Springboks in 2022. But their performances have also been generally poor and we have not seen any marked improvement since Eddie Jones took over.

So the chances of Australia winning the Rugby World Cup are incredibly slim. They would need a miracle really to make it to the final. It would undoubtedly be the best performance in Australian rugby history if they were to win the Rugby World Cup in France this year.

Prediction of Australia’s tournament: Semi-final exit

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