The Rugby World Cup is only a year away. While all the talk is now on the Bledisloe Cup, should the Aussies be thinking about an even bigger prize?
Currently, there is a rampant All Blacks team well entrenched at the top of the heap, with some of the game’s best players across their squad. However, are they better than four years ago?
Their current team, and their World Cup planning for 2015, contains many of the same faces: Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, Dan Carter, Conrad Smith, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock, Corey Flynn, the Franks brothers, Sam Whitelock, Jerome Kaino, Ma’a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Israel Dagg and Corey Jane.
Who from that list is better than the 2011 winning World Cup squad? I can only see Whitelock. Now he partners Retallick, which is a dynamic second row, but Brad Thorn was as tough as they come so I doubt there would be much in it.
What of the rest? Owen Franks and Sonny Bill Williams are probably better, and Kaino maybe. The rest are arguably now not as good as in 2011.
The Waratahs defence and offence in the Super Rugby Final showed that McCaw and Read were well outpointed by their opponents Mike Hooper and Wycliff Palu. Carter went off injured, but Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale were already winning that battle.
Only Nemani Nadolo gave the Crusaders any hint of penetration in that match, whereas the Waratahs looked threatening across the park.
The All Blacks are not the Crusaders, and the Waratahs are not the Wallabies, but many of the players will be the same.
The All Blacks have Julian Savea as their Nadolo option, but on Super Rugby form he’s not as threatening as Nadolo.
Aaron Smith may add something new and potentially dangerous, but the All Blacks don’t look as dangerous in attack as in 2011.
Against a quality English team in June, they looked like a side that was just hanging on to their top ranking, even though they had improved by the third Test.
English selection errors and an uncertainty in their game plans made the All Blacks look better than they probably were. The English will learn from those mistakes and will be very hard to beat in the 2015 World Cup.
No team has defended their World Cup title to-date, but that won’t dent All Blacks belief. To win in 2015, however, they will still need to have a number of players as best in their positions, which looks doubtful.
The Wallabies, on the other hand, appear to be on the up-curve. They have a similar feel to the 1990 Wallaby team, before going on to win the 1991 World Cup, with many of the best players by position among their ranks.
Those players virtually appeared from nowhere, except David Campese, Michael Lynagh and Nick Farr-Jones. Others like Phil Kearns, John Eales, Tim Horan, Jason Little, Willy Ofahengaue, Ewen McKenzie et al became overnight sensations. So, can it happen again?
Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Mike Hooper are virtually there already, while Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Kurtley Beale, and James Slipper look imminent. Sam Carter is ready to emerge, and Nathan Charles may surprise.
Palu has to stay on the field, to continue on his upward curve from a high base. Scott Fardy and Scott Higginbotham have the potential.
A Wallabies v England World Cup Final in 2015 is very possible.
If the 2014 Wallabies are at a 1990 level, then sadly we should not expect a Bledisloe result this year. But, will we win the third Test? Will Nathan Charles raise the fist in triumph like Kearns after scoring the winning try in 1990?
- Alan Carruthers, Roar