Focus on Australia – Wales’ World Cup pool rivals

Paul Eddison
09 August 2019

Share this article

Wales will head to the 2019 World Cup as Grand Slam champions and brimming with confidence.

However they face a potentially tricky pool with a former champion in Australia, a Fijian side packed with talent, not to mention a Georgian team looking to build on their best-ever World Cup result four years ago.

Even Uruguay, ranked 19 in the world, have enjoyed some strong recent results with wins over the USA and Canada among others.

However it is Australia who stand out as the most obvious challenger for the Welsh. The champions in 1991 and 1999 have made it to the semi-finals in all bar two editions of the tournament.

We will have an even better idea of where they stand after this weekend’s Bledisloe Cup clash with New Zealand, but the Wallabies always seem to be able to raise their game at World Cups, as evidenced by reaching the final four years ago.

Main men

Michael Hooper will captain the side and at just 27, he is already one of the game’s most experienced back-rowers. With David Pocock still on the comeback trail from injury, the other interesting development in the Wallaby back row has been the emergence of Isi Naisarani, the powerful Rebels No.8 who has made the immediate step-up to international level this season.

Elsewhere in the pack, Australia have a pair of top-class tightheads in Sekope Kepu and Taniela Tupou, and that helped them get the better of Argentina in the Rugby Championship a fortnight ago.

Meanwhile in the backs, even without Israel Folau, Australia have a wealth of talent to call upon. Samu Kerevi is probably the key figure in the centres, with some question marks over most other positions.

Against the All Blacks the returning James O’Connor gets his chance to start a Test for the first time in six years alongside Kerevi.

Michael Cheika looks to be experimenting in the half-backs, where Will Genia and Bernard Foley, the long-time first-choice pairing, appear to have some competition in the shape of Nic White and Christian Lealiifano.

Guinness PRO14 experience

Lealiifano has seized his opportunity at fly-half in recent weeks, after making his return from leukaemia with Ulster in 2017.

The 31-year-old spent five months playing in Belfast, and his re-emergence on the international stage has been one of the feel-good stories of the year.

Capable of playing either at ten or in midfield, Lealiifano has been used primarily at fly-half this season and got the Australian backline ticking.

It will be a big challenge against the All Blacks this weekend but Lealiifano has overcome greater odds than this.

Who’s in charge

The other man in the set-up with extensive Guinness PRO14 experience is Cheika, the former Leinster coach.

During his time in Dublin, Cheika oversaw Leinster’s first European title as well as the league title a year earlier in 2008.

He has been in charge of Australia since 2014, when he replaced Ewen McKenzie, enjoying a strong start to his time as coach when he led the Wallabies to the World Cup final.

They have struggled somewhat in the last two years however, with Cheika looking to reverse a trend that saw Australia win just four Tests and lose nine in 2018.

World Cup pedigree

While Australia’s recent form has not been strong, when it comes to World Cups they always seem to find their best form.

Four years ago they got all the way to the final before losing to New Zealand, who also beat them in the 2011 World Cup.

You have to go back to the 1990s for their last success, Tim Horan inspiring them to victory in 1999, while David Campese was the star attraction in the 1991 success.

Their record against pool rivals Wales is strong, having won the five meetings between the sides on the biggest stage since Wales won the third-place play-off at the inaugural World Cup.

2019 fixtures

Australia open up their Pool D campaign against Fiji in Sapporo in one of the most exciting pool matches of the tournament.

That is followed by the all-important encounter against Wales in Chofu eight days later which could decide the fate of the pool.

After that, Australia will take on Uruguay and Georgia before a potential quarter-final against one of the qualifiers from the pool featuring England, France and Argentina.

Share this article