Australia’s season 2011 got off to the worst possible start as a warm-up side took a fired up Samoa team lightly and was soundly beaten. However, since then things have improved immensely as Australia lost only one tri-nations match on their way to victory in that tournament, beating New Zealand with an outstanding performance in a de facto final in Brisbane. The victory mirrors that of the Queensland Reds over New Zealand rivals the Crusaders in the super 15 finals, with both teams containing the nucleus of their international sides. The world’s number two team will be coming into the world cup high on confidence.
The Australian squad is well rounded. Australia’s traditional weakness in the scrum has not been visible during the tri nations, achieving parity with the All Blacks and Springboks. The lineout had some shaky moments against New Zealand, but captain and lock James Horwill will back the team to sort out their calls come world cup time.
The back row has been good with Rocky Elsom having a point to prove over losing the captaincy just before the world cup, young flanker David Pocock outstanding at the breakdown throughout the tri nations and number 8 Radike Samo destroying the All Black defence on his return in the final tri nations match. Halfback Will Genia must be among the best in his position in the world, fiery outside half Quade Cooper has generally coped well with the pressure loaded on him by the opposition, and the Wallaby backline has functioned smoothly with plenty of line breakers in the outside backs. The goal kicking from James O’Connor and Quade Cooper has not been top class and their rivals will hope that continues into a tournament that could turn on fine margins.
The Wallabies will be confident of topping their group against a troubled Ireland, Italy, Russia, and the United States. If all results go according to world rankings, a quarter final with Wales and a semi-final against England or France could await, meaning Australia would not have to face either of their tri nations rivals again until the world cup final. They will be confident of going all the way in this tournament.
Props: Salesi Ma’afu, Ben Alexander, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu
Hookers: Stephen Moore, Saia Faingaa, Tatafu Polota-Nau
Locks: James Horwill (C), Dan Vickerman, Nathan Sharpe, Rob Simmons
Flankers: Rocky Elsom, David Pocock, Scott Higginbotham
No. 8s: Radike Samo, Wycliff Palu, Ben McCalman
Halfbacks: Will Genia, Luke Burgess, Nick Phipps
Flyhalves: Quade Cooper
Centres: Berrick Barnes, Pat McCabe, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Anthony Faingaa, Rob Horne
Outside backs: Kurtley Beale, Digby Ioane, James O’Connor, Drew Mitchell
2011 results (most recent first): W, W, L, W, L. 1st in the tri nations (3N).
Tries in 2011: 11 in 4 matches in 3N. 2 in 1 tri nations warm-up match (vs Samoa).
Main goal kickers: O’Conner, Cooper.