Wallaby captain Stephen Moore has already started to tune out incessant references to Australia’s World Cup “Pool of Death”, saying the team was looking no further than first-round opponents Fiji once the whips start cracking in England.
The Australians have returned to train in the sweltering Indiana heat at the University of Notre Dame following their win over the USA Eagles at Chicago’s Soldier Field, a victory unlikely to take out any beauty pageants but which crucially produced no signs of injury.
All focus now turns to their World Cup opener on September 23 against the Fijians at Cardiff’s Millenium Stadium, a match some people are viewing simply as an entree to the highly anticipated meeting with the English at Twickenham on October 3.
The Wallabies will also have to take on Wales as they try to emerge from what shapes as the most competitive group stage of the tournament.
Initially, the Australians looked as if they would battle to make it to the knockout stages. But a strong Rugby Championship under coach Michael Cheika has them back up to No.2 in the world rankings, behind favourites and defending champions New Zealand.
Moore has enjoyed the relative quiet of South Bend but could already feel the intensity begin to rise as the final warm-up game was ticked off the list. They will head to Britain at the end of the week.
“I think so, yeah. I think most of the guys are realising that this is the last part of the building phase. And then we go into sudden death right from the start … we haven’t thought beyond that Fiji game,” Moore said.
“We have to be on right from the start of the tournament. That’s what our preparation is geared for. We’ve trained really hard over here and it’s feeling real… we are going to get over there and it’s on.”
Moore said the Wallabies weren’t going to be making any grand predictions before the World Cup and had already heard just about enough talk about the pitfalls of their pool, the difficulty of which may have just been taken down a notch following the withdrawal of gun Welsh fullback Leigh Halfpenny with a knee injury.
“We don’t want to really say too much. We just want to play as well as we can right from the start. Every time you talk about the World Cup you’re asked about the pool of death. That’s just another thing you have to manage,” Moore said.
“We’re paying Fiji the utmost respect. They’re going to be a very tough opponent for us.
“You’re only playing one team at a time. That’s the way to approach it. We know all of our games are going to be tough and that’s how we are going to go into the tournament.”
With only two of Australia, England and Wales likely to emerge from Pool A, the Fijians have become the very definition of flying under the radar. Not surprisingly, they see things differently and believe they can shake up some of the tournament fancies.
They belted Canada 47-18 on Sunday and have been known to dish out some humble pie in previous World Cups, with their biggest scalp the Welsh in 2007. Wales would hit back in 2011, smashing Fiji 66-0 to ensure the island nation wouldn’t progress past the pool stage.
Moore said the time spent in the US had helped bring the team even closer together. Putting an end to the factions within the team has been a key focus of Cheika since he took over and Moore believes they have taken significant strides.
“You have to continue to work on that. That’s part of any team, especially being away for such a long time. You have to always read the team and get a barometer on how everyone is feeling,” Moore said.
“The senior players play a role in that as well. You have to keep everyone motivated and fresh mentally and physically.
“But I am pretty happy with how we are going on that front. There is a lot of belief but that’s something we’ve had to work at.”
- Sydney Morning Herald