With the 2015 Rugby World Cup now just days away, we take a closer look at each of the competing nations. Next up…
Nickname: The Wallabies
World Cup track record:
Australia have been World Cup champions on two occasions, in 1991 and 1999. The fell agonisingly short of becoming the first side to win three World Cup titles when they lost the 2003 final on home soil to England. Their worst performances came in 1995 and 2007, when they lost to England in the quarter-finals.
1987: Fourth place
2011: Third place
2011 World Cup: The Wallabies were knocked out in the semi-finals by hosts and eventual champions New Zealand, after defeating South Africa in the quarter-finals. They finished second in Pool C after losing to Ireland in group stage. Finished third.
World Cup Stats: P41, W33, D0, L8
– Most RWC appearances: George Gregan (20)
– Most appearances: George Gregan (139)
– Top RWC points scorer: Michael Lynagh (195)
– Top points scorer: Michael Lynagh (911)
– Top RWC try scorers: Chris Latham (11)
– Top try scorer: David Campese (64)
Form: Even with a heavy defeat to New Zealand at Eden Park, the Wallabies have made progress in 2015. That loss denied them the chance to win back the Bledisloe Cup but Australia did clinch the Rugby Championship title for the first time in four years. A late win over South Africa in Brisbane started their run before the Wallabies impressed with a big victory over in Argentina. They then sealed the title with a memorable 27-19 win over New Zealand, their first over the All Blacks since 2011, to win the tournament and receive a big psychological boost ahead of the Rugby World Cup.
Coach: Michael Cheika was appointed as head coach in 2014 when he took over following the departure of Ewen McKenzie. During his playing career as a number eight he featured for Randwick, Castres, Stade Français and Livorno before his first coaching job in Italy with Padova. Cheika’s coaching career took off with Leinster where he spent five years and won the European Cup before joining Stade Français. He coached the Waratahs to the 2014 Super Rugby title and was then appointed as coach of both sides by the Australian Rugby Union for 2015, before turning his attention to the Wallabies ahead of the Rugby World Cup.
Captain: Stephen Moore took over as captain of Australia in 2014, but his reign was cut short by injury minutes into his first game leading his country against France. He was picked by head coach Michael Cheika to lead the side again in 2015 after another excellent year in Super Rugby. Moore made his debut for Australia in 2005 but didn’t make his first start until his ninth cap, when he also scored a try in a win over Scotland at Murrayfield. Moore featured in the 2007 and 2011 Rugby World Cups for Australia and has played in Super Rugby since 2003, first with the Reds and since 2009 with the Brumbies, making over 150 appearances in the competition.
Key players: Australia boast some of the best rugby talents on the planet across their side from 1 to 15. That starts up front in their back row with two outstanding flankers in Michael Hooper and David Pocock. Both number sevens by trade, Hooper and Pocock have developed reputations for being excellent operators at the breakdown and are also both former Australia captains. Hooper led the Waratahs to the Super Rugby title in 2014 and wins praise for his presence around the field and ability with the ball in hand, while Pocock has come back from major knee injuries in 2013 and 2014 to star for the Brumbies in Super Rugby, scoring two hat-tricks in 2015.
In the backs Australia have the all-round brilliance of Israel Folau at their disposal. The former Rugby League and AFL star has been a success since he switched over to rugby union and recently signed a new contract with the ARU. Excellent under the high ball, Folau has real pace and strength, making him a huge weapon for the Wallabies at full-back. Matt Giteau’s experience is also a huge asset.
Profile: Unlike with New Zealand or South Africa, rugby in Australia has to compete with rugby league and AFL to stand out from the crowd and win over supporters and also future players. Great names of the past have included John Eales, George Gregan, Michael Lynagh and Tim Horan, while another in Stephen Larkham is currently the Wallabies assistant coach.
Australia in the past have become known as one of the weaker scrummaging sides in world rugby, although that perspective is changing in 2015 thanks to the work of scrum coach Mario Ledesma. Over time they have been regarded as one of the finest attacking sides in the game, going back to the days of David Campese to the present day with Folau. Not afraid to play with plenty of width, a lot of that ambition stems from their attacking fly-halves such as Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley.
Despite that, at World Cups the Wallabies’ success has often come from having an excellent goalkicker in their side, with Michael Lynagh in 1991 and Matt Burke in 1999 propelling the side to victory. Two Rugby World Cup titles in three tournaments is also the closest run of success of any side in history, with South Africa having to wait 12 years and New Zealand 24 years between titles.
The major questions about Australia going into the 2015 tournament have been whether Michael Cheika has been able to put his stamp on the side have only taken over the year before, despite the fact that several of the Australia side come from Cheika’s Waratahs outfit. Since the end of their dominance in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Australia have struggled to keep pace with their old rivals the All Blacks. They last won the Rugby Championship in 2011, going on to reach the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup later that year.
Prospects in 2015: Certainly a World Cup contender, Australia face a tricky pool stage at the Rugby World Cup being grouped in Pool A alongside England and Wales. They might even be knocked out in the pool stages, but on their day with their pack firing the Wallabies are a match for anybody.
23 Sep – 16:45 v Fiji, Cardiff
27 Sep – 12:00 v Uruguay, Birmingham
3 Oct – 20:00 v England, Twickenham, London
10 Oct – 16:45 v Wales, Twickenham, London