As we do at the end of a major tournament, we look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next up, Australia.
So near and yet so far. Australia trailed by just four points heading into the last ten minutes of the World Cup final before the boot of Dan Carter put New Zealand out of reach before Beauden Barrett hammered the final nail in the coffin.
Still, it was a remarkable turnaround for Australia, who went from a laughing stock for much of last season to clearly the second best team in the world this year.
Michael Cheika was named World Rugby Coach of the Year as a result, and it’s hard to argue with the decision. Mario Ledesma’s transformation of the Wallaby set-piece also received a lot of praise, and played major role in the turnaround.
After the defeat Cheika had already turned his attention to the future and trying to close the gap on New Zealand.
He will have to cope with managing overseas players, with the ‘Giteau Law’ now covering a far larger number of players than previously, so Cheika will have to work out whether he calls on the likes of Adam Ashley-Cooper, Will Genia, Sekope Kepu as well as those already based abroad.
The team shouldn’t lose too many players in the immediate future, with Wycliff Palu the oldest member of the World Cups squad at 33.
However, Palu, Giteau and skipper Stephen Moore are unlikely to make it to Japan in four years’ time, and there have to be doubts over the likes of Ashley-Cooper and Scott Fardy as well.
As ever, there is young talent coming through, particularly in the back-row, where David Pocock, Michael Hooper and Sean McMahon provide three outstanding fetching options, with Liam Gill also waiting in the wings.
In fact with the likes of Luke Jones and Sam Carter coming through in the second-row and Scott Sio proving the revelation of the tournament, things look bright for the Wallabies up front.
Hooker is a concern, with Moore getting on and Tatafu Polota-Nau’s concussion problems, while there is a similar problem at scrum-half where Nick Phipps is now the only player with caps playing in Super Rugby.
The long-term future of Israel Folau is also a major question mark, he has signed a three-year deal through to 2018, but admits he doesn’t know where he’ll be by the time the next World Cup rolls around.
Cheika appears to have got the best out of Kurtley Beale, while Matt Toomua looks the long-term successor to Giteau.
Depth is a problem, and two underperforming Super Rugby franchises in the Force and the Reds, don’t help in that regard, but at the top end, Australia should still be strong.
Cheika has shown he can work miracles to transform a struggling team, now he needs to prove he can do the same in the longer term.
by Paul Eddison