As the only team ever to win the World Cup twice, Australia can never be discounted as contenders for rugby’s biggest prize – Rob Douglas assesses their chances at this year’s competition.
The current odds on Australia winning the world cup are 10-1 or 11-1, making them fourth favourites. After a few seasons of under-performing this seems fair, despite their current world ranking of second, behind only the omnipotent All Blacks (whom they actually beat in Melbourne in the Tri Nations earlier this year).
However, let’s analyse this objectively. We’re talking about the only team to reach three world cup finals, winning two of them. This is a team loaded with big match performers, from captain Stirling Mortlock in midfield to George Smith and Nathan Sharpe upfront. In George Gregan and Stephen Larkham they boast the most experienced half back combination of all time, and with finishers like Drew Mitchell and Mark Gerrard lurking out wide, this is a team which seems to tick all the boxes. Add to this the power brought by Lote Tuqiri on the wing and David Lyons from the back of the scrum, as well as the versatile subtlety of Matt Giteau, the menace oozing from the men in Green and Gold is all too apparent. Even their perennial Achilles heel in the front row has been stablised and, whilst never going to win them any matches, it is unlikely to cause any defeats.
On the evidence of Wales’ recent form, the Wallabies will cruise their group matches and a place in the semi-finals is likely the reward for success against either the Springboks or the limping Chariot. History suggests that in these knockout stages the infuriating Australian sporting mentality with which English sports fans are all too familiar will provoke over-achievement.
The All Blacks remains the bookies’ favourites but they have certainly lost some of their infallible aura and strut of late, arguably falling into the stereotypical trap of peaking between the big tournaments. It goes against the very core of this patriotic Pom to say it but by October the smart money may be on the last team to beat the Kiwis.