With the Waratahs wrapping up the 2014 Super Rugby season with a narrow 33-32 victory over the Crusaders fans attentions will turn to the upcoming Super Rugby Championship.
With that in mind we take a look at 10 reasons why the Wallabies are looking like serious contenders for the 2014 Rugby Championship after a disappointing 2013 tournament;
1. Israel Folau
Surely this one goes without saying really? The former NRL man has been the catalyst behind the Waratahs sparkling backline in Super Rugby this season. If Folau is on top form for the Wallabies during the Rugby Championship he could easily be the difference between another disappointing third place finish or the Wallabies topping the pile.
2. The Pack
The Wallabies are hardly notorious for having a solid set piece up front, and whilst this is still the case to some extent it seems their forward pack is finally finding it’s rhythm. The scrum has shored up as Kepu and Slipper have emerged as the preferred props whilst there is a solid ballast behind them. The one thing that has never been in doubt however is there work in the lose.
3. Playmakers at 12
Whether Ewen McKenzie sticks with Matt Toomua at inside centre or opts for Kurtley Beale having a true playmaker in the number 12 shirt is ideal for the Wallabies style of play. We’ve seen in Super Rugby this season just how effective Beale has been at 12 allowing Bernard Foley to play his more natural game and giving him the freedom to take the ball to the gainline.
4. Michael Hooper
Australia’s young skipper Michael Hooper has played every minute of the Waratahs Super Rugby season, leading by example and establishing his leadership credentials. For me he is currently the stand-out openside flanker in the world and looks certain to be a key member of the Wallabies squad during the 2014 Rugby Championshop.
5. The Removal of Distractions
Under Robbie Deans there seemed to be some kind of off-field issue every week for the Wallabies as players were allowed to get away with drunken misdemeanours and tardiness. Under McKenzie this side of the Wallabies seems to have been eradicated as the core group of players have stepped up and led by example helping to ensure there are no external distractions for the rest of the squad.
6. Competition for Places
Whilst the Wallabies squad may not be quite as deep as McKenzie would wish, the current players will be well aware that this time next year the starting XV will be much more competitive. With the likes of James O’Connor and Digby Ioane looking to return from stints abroad and injured players like David Pocock and Stephen Moore likely to be back players know that now is the time to make a press for a starting shirt ahead of the World Cup.
7. The Waratahs
The Waratahs success in claiming their first Super Rugby title in 2014 could well be the catalyst for the Wallabies to go on and emulate them in the Rugby Championship. The fact a number of key Wallabies have been in the Championship winning Tahs side will only further help. Possibly most important is the half back combination of Foley and White who can draw on this seasons experience if selected together.
The emergence of a number of talented young players for the Wallabies, particularly in the forwards, could be the catalyst for a triumphant Rugby Championship. It’s hard to believe that Scott Sio, Michael Hooper, Will Skelton, Nic White, Bernard Foley, Tevita Kuridrani, Rob Horne, Sam Carter and Joe Tomane are all 24 or under.
Whilst the Wallabies may be suffering some key injuries themselves, the injury issues sustained by the All Blacks could just give them an advantage. The All Blacks key men like Kieran Read, Richie McCaw and Dan Carter have all been out for large chunks of the season, and whilst still great players didn’t look quite at their best in the Super Rugby final which could just hand the edge to the Springboks and Wallabies.
10. Henry Speight
Although the Fijian born flyer is ineligible for the first half of the Rugby Championship and will be returning from injury, he could be a key man for the Wallabies. Since the departure of Digby Ioane to the French capital the Wallabies have been lacking a clinical finisher out wide and in Speight they could just have the man to help them turn around tight games as the Championship draws to a close.
How do you think the Wallabies will get on in the 2014 Rugby Championship?