Patience, persistence and pain are all fond adjectives that can be used to describe any rugby union supporter in Australia in this current moment in time.
With decreasing crowd attendance and membership levels at Super Rugby games and decreased amounts of registered players in comparison to Aussie Rules, Rugby League and Soccer counterparts, one must tend to think how bright does the future really look like for Rugby Union in Australia.
The Wallabies have certainly done their part in attributing to this, only racking up 5 wins this season, against predominately tier 2 rugby playing nations (Japan, Italy and Fiji), with the highlight of the season being a last minute 23-18 win over the All Blacks in Brisbane.
With repeated inconsistency across numerous games, performance levels staggering, and player combinations consistently being changes around, the Australian Rugby public must be asking the question:
“Has Michael Cheika found the right combinations, to take the Wallabies to World Cup Glory in 2019? Or are the Wallabies still finding their feet as a team?”
What has worked so well for the current World Cup champions, the All Blacks, time and time again, Cheika has yet to incorporate into his long term game plan.
The Wallabies have debuted 10 new players this season and have consistently changed key combinations within the starting 15, struggling to build any consistency in key combinations such as the halves, back row and back three.
Thank God For Izzy
The one shining light in the Wallabies fold, has been the consistent performance of Israel Folau in the number 15 jersey. With so many question marks around if he would transition into rugby union from rugby league as seamless as Sonny Bill Williams has all been answered.
A John Eales medal winner for the third time in October, Folau has racked up 62 tests and has started every game for the Wallabies since his inclusion in the side in 2013 bar the recent November European Tour. Folau had equaled Lote Tuqiri’s tally of 10 tries in a season for the Wallabies in his debut year as well.
So clearly Cheika is looking to replicate that success with the amount of rugby league converts that have been included in the Wallabies fold over the last year:
Marika Koroibete: ex Melbourne Storm winger that has had a great first year in Wallaby colours, but is still to prove himself on the big stage against world class opposition.
Duncan Paia’aua: Appeared against the Barbarians and showed the attacking flare that had him on the books for the Brisbane Broncos, before getting snapped up by the Reds. Paia’aua is reminiscent of a young Quade Cooper but very solid on defence, a clear long term option for the Wallabies once Foley finishes up.
Curtis Rona: The 3 test Wallaby has racked up 50 games for the Canterbury Bulldogs, and 7 games for North Queensland in the NRL has proved handy off the bench for the Wallabies but similar to Koroibete has not had enough game time against quality opposition to prove his value.
Loptei Timani: A former Bulldogs under 20 player in the Toyota Cup in 2009, Timani has been touted as the replacement to Wycliff Palu and with a running game and physical presence to match. Timani has struggled to cement the starting number 8 jersey, with limited game time mixed with numerous niggling injuries.
Karmichael Hunt: The most well-known league name outside of Folau, Hunt has had a stellar debut year in 2017. The former Maroon has proved to be a vital utility back that can play nearly any position in the backline. Off field incidents aside, Hunt has shown if he can focus solely on his rugby, he can be a long term Wallaby.
Where to from here?
It’s common knowledge with any Australian sports team, that if you are winning consistently and winning convincingly that the fans will come out in droves week after week.
Shown when the Queensland Reds won the Super Rugby title in 2011 and the Waratahs in 2014, but the Wallabies need more than just a handful of wins each year. A loss to Scotland last weekend after a loss to a “Scotland B” team will to go far to convincing the rugby public, that Coach Michael Cheika has the team on track for World Cup Glory.
Consistent wins in the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup against quality opposition such as the All Blacks, and wins against top ranked European teams: England, Ireland, Scotland and France will go a long way to bringing back the disappointed rugby faithful and restore confidence in World Cup glory in Japan 2019.