Sport Rugby

Thursday 14 December 2017

Wallabies deliver World Cup warning


Australia's Nick Cummins beats Wales' Mike Phillips in the Dove Men Series at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.
Australia's Nick Cummins beats Wales' Mike Phillips in the Dove Men Series at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.

Chris Hewitt

IT remains nothing more than a dot on the rugby horizon - the 2015 World Cup, that is - and pretty much anything could happen in the 664 days between here and there.

The club-versus-union conflict could send the whole of the European game into meltdown (perfectly possible); New Zealand could hit a bad patch (it has to happen sometime, surely); Wallaby coach Ewen McKenzie could decide that his predecessor was right all along and chuck Quade Cooper out on his ear (barely conceivable on latest evidence, admittedly).

This much is certain, however: Wales need to start thinking seriously about the forthcoming global tournament.

"There’s a lot of water to pass under the bridge before the World Cup," said Wales boss Warren Gatland with a dismissive wave of the hand before an exhilarating finale to the autumn programme, in which Australia triumphed in Cardiff.

Indeed there is, but sadly for Wales, it is the kind of water more associated with the Southern Ocean than the Bristol Channel. The Wallabies washed over Wales in a 29-minute spell either side of the interval, playing a brand of rugby bordering on the sublime before resisting a late surge.

Cooper was at the heart of it - some of the obliquelyangled passes thrown by the outside-half rewrote the laws of geometry - and, if Australia continue to push back the boundaries of the attacking game in this fashion, their place in the global gathering’s knockout stage will be assured.

Which would leave England and Wales the dubious pleasure of scrapping for second place in the pool and spending the rest of the tournament in the same half of the draw as the Springboks and the All Blacks. Oh dear.

It is as well to remember that as recently as September, the Wallabies were somewhere close to rock bottom. Indeed, it was legitimate to wonder whether they had ever been so weak.

Suddenly, they look more threatening than at any point in the last decade, with Cooper, Will Genia, Israel Folau, Christian Leali’ifano and Michael Hooper hitting a very high level of performance and some alarmingly talented outsiders - David Pocock and Scott Higginbotham up front, James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale behind - to be reintegrated at the right moment.

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