Planet Rugby

State of the Nation: Australia

05th December 2013 10:07

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Improving: Australia

As we do at the end of every year, we look at the state of affairs in each of the world's leading nations. Next up, Australia!

Improvements and lots of them for Australia after the November Tests as they return Down Under following a busy five months since the Lions series.

The 2-1 defeat to the British and Irish Lions was of course a disappointment, with the decider seeing Robbie Deans' charges well beaten in Sydney.

Change was always expected after that series and so it proved as Ewen McKenzie got the job ahead of Jake White, who later left the country to return to South Africa for a role at the Sharks. McKenzie meanwhile would embark on a tough first Rugby Championship against two sides on top of the world.

The All Blacks and Springboks were a cut above the Wallabies and Pumas as McKenzie's tenure got off to a disappointing start, winning just the two games against Argentina. They came under heavy criticism and in some respects played worse than they did against the Lions. Then came Bledisloe III.

New Zealand were pushed hard in Dunedin as the Wallabies stepped up in class, with Matt Toomua in the middle of Quade Cooper and Tevita Kuridrani looking a triumvirate worth sticking with. Michael Hooper was also one man who consistently showed up for McKenzie in the absence of David Pocock.

They would then head to the north for fixtures against England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales - and they may count themselves unlucky not to have won four out of four after Dylan Hartley's block went unnoticed for, we quote, "not enough obstruction". That opening defeat was soon put to rest with a superb performance in Dublin as Ireland were blown away by some clinical running in the wide channels, eventually winning 32-15 at the Aviva Stadium.

Next stop was Murrayfield and a playing surface not fit for Test rugby. However, Israel Folau's first-half try ultimately proved to be the difference as his debut season for the Waratahs and Wallabies went from strength to strength. He, along with Cooper, Toomua, Hooper and Stephen Moore stood out.

Last but not least in a busy international year, Australia took on long-standing rivals Wales at the Millennium Stadium, looking to improve on their impressive streak that had seen the Welsh having not beaten the Wallabies in their last eight meetings. That became nine following a Cooper-inspired performance that gave McKenzie plenty of positives to mull over going into 2014. For most of the squad it was sweet revenge for the Lions series loss.

That result saw the Wallabies return to the top three of the IRB World Rankings, but it's clear that the next task for McKenzie will be to build on the end-of-year series when they return to action in their 2014 Rugby Championship opener, at home to New Zealand. Victory in that one is now not as unlikely as two months ago - and with Scott Higginbotham, Pocock returning and Tatafu Polota-Nau back to full fitness, the future is looking bright.

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