AUSTRALIA V FIJI
SATURDAY 21 SEPTEMBER 12:45
Sapporo Dome, Sapporo
AUSTRALIA V WALES
SUNDAY 29 SEPTEMBER 15:45
Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo
AUSTRALIA V URUGUAY
SATURDAY 05 OCTOBER 13:15
Oita Stadium, Oita Prefecture
AUSTRALIA V GEORGIA
FRIDAY 11 OCTOBER 18:15
Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa, Shizuoka Prefecture
* Malaysian Time
Australia goes to Japan with a very different form sheet to when they arrived in London 2015.
The Israel Folau controversy has been a very unnecessary distraction for the Wallabies. After an abysmal 2018, the team finally began to pull together culminating with a magnificent and record-breaking win over the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship. This is a story that will stay sweet as long as the Wallabies are winning; lose one match though and the questions about Folau will bubble up to the surface in no time.
In their group, Australia are odds on to make it to the quarterfinal barring some unfortunate result. Their main rival will be Wales, which are this year’s Grand Slam champions of the Six Nations. The Wallabies did very well in the last World Cup, despite falling at the final hurdle against New Zealand at Twickenham which prevented them from lifting the biggest trophy that rugby has to offer.
They will have learnt a lot from that and will take confidence from the fact that they overcame Scotland and Argentina in the knockout stages under severe pressure. Wales were also in the same group as them in 2015 which will give the Aussies the confidence that they can come top of their group again over Wales. They ended up having a four point cushion over Warren Gatland’s side at the end of the group stage.
Less Wallabies and more Tasmanian Devils, this team still scraps and gnaws – even when getting battered, they never stop fighting. Which is something to build on as they seek to rediscover form. It helps that they have a runaway tank in Samu Kerevi and a lineout that is usually a great attacking platform. They also have willing young back-rowers. What also works in their favour is their national psyche – this is a World Cup and they are the Wallabies. Peaking at the major event is part of their heritage.
They don’t suffer from amnesia, so have a strong recent history of Test defeats to recall. They have lost the knack of seeing out tough games and, crucially, they have taken to butchering some of their try-scoring opportunities of late. They are creating but vital skills are letting them down.
And at major contact points like the ruck they have wilted. They need to remember what it was like when they had a side of spoilers, niggle merchants and all-round ruffians. They need to win some small battles. The catching and passing will come. The absence of world-class full-back Israel Folau has added to uncertainty in selection. They have lots of versatile backs but where to put everybody?
The Coach: Michael Cheika
The globetrotter has coached extensively in Europe. Starting at Padova in Italy before jetting back to Randwick, his big breakthrough was with Leinster from 2005-10, where he won the Celtic League and an historic Heineken Cup.
His gig with Stade Français was a bust but he led the Waratahs to their first-ever Super Rugby title – making him the only coach to win the premier club competition in each hemisphere. He took over Australia from Ewen McKenzie in 2014, taking them to an RWC final.
The multilingual coach can go from ranting in his coaches’ box to being witty and fun with the media. Power of personality has worked in the past but, for all of his successes, he has a poor recent record and last year he had to fight off calls for a coaching coup. He has since ‘unveiled’ a new attacking strategy. Will it catch on in time for a cup run?
Shaun Berne recently left his position as Rebels attack coach to become an assistant, joining forwards coach Simon Raiwalui, defence coach Nathan Grey and skills coach Mick Byrne.