No room for Australian complacency at Japan 2019

On paper, it looks insultingly easy. Once more, great things are expected of an Australian side that carries a huge burden into Japan in the autumn of 2019. A failure to win the greatest prize of all will extend Australia’s wait for it into a third decade. It is an outcome that seems almost unthinkable, and the pain of the 2015 final defeat to New Zealand could be redoubled, as the two Oceanic giants could only meet as soon as the final itself next year.

Four years is a long time in rugby union, so just how do Australia’s flashpoint opponents of 2019 compare to their predecessors?

 

Beat Wales, win Group D

As the only team that is absolutely certain await Australia at this point, the equation appears simple: beat Wales, win the group. Current rugby union betting odds for the 2019 World Cup price Australia at 8/1 to lift the trophy, making them exactly twice as likely to do so as Wales.

As a New Zealander, Warren Gatland will certainly be eager to score a huge upset, and the newcomers into the squad since 2015 will also give Australia food for thought. Though he has just eight international caps for Wales in two years, Ellis Jenkins has already experienced the pressures that go with being an international captain. Psychologically he will also be stoked, having been forced to wait for international action due to the sheer level of competition he faced.

Several other Wales players will also be a handful for Australia if their trajectory of improvement – relative to last year – continues. Josh Adams is prominent in that regard, having missed out on a crucial tour last summer, only to be drafted in for what was to be a winning test, against Argentina this year. In between those contrasting events, he entered Christmas 2017 as the Aviva Premier League’s top scorer and made his bow (against Scotland) at the Six Nations.

Looking ahead – the projected knockout stage

Regardless of surprise elements, Australia will still be odds-on against Wales. Thus, it becomes a question of whether France or England finish in the runner up spot of Group C.

Given England’s disgraceful performance at their home World Cup of 2015, nothing can be guaranteed. However, current odds indicate full confidence in the 2003 winners finishing top, and leaving France at the mercy of Australia at the first knockout hurdle. As the most experienced prop forward in the international roster not to have played in the 2015 World Cup, Cyril Baille will be fighting harder than ever over the next year to stay in consideration next to more experience positional rivals in Uini Atonio and Rabah Slimani.

Beyond that, it is anybody’s guess as to whom Australia will face thereafter, though a final matchup with reigning holders New Zealand would be almost inevitable if the Wallabies get that far. Scotland had an unexpectedly strong Six Nations campaign in 2018, while winners Ireland continue to go from strength to strength. There is also the presence of home nation Japan to consider, with a famous victory over South Africa (in the 2015 World Cup) being considered a watershed moment for a Rugby nation on a near-vertical ‘up’.

Current projections indicate that Ireland will await Australia in the semi finals. While already experienced in World Cup action, tighthead prop Tadhg Furlong is potentially Australia’s greatest threat to progress after an illustrious 2018. This year saw him become a Grand Slam winner, and (at club level) a Champions Cup and Guinness PRO14 silverware winner. He will certainly relish the prospect of facing Australia again. Having shown excellent clearing at the breakdown, his contributions were vital to getting Ireland a first series win in Australia since 1979.

Ultimately, though Australia are amongst the frontrunners by merit, nothing is guaranteed!

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