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'A game based on errors': Wallabies' short-term struggles will reap rewards

By Finn Morton
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Just a couple of years out from the Rugby World Cup in France, the Wallabies have shown throughout 2021 that they’re a team capable of contending for rugby’s ultimate prize.

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While they may be coming off back-to-back losses against Scotland and England, there’s no denying that the Wallabies are building to something special.

After starting the season seventh in the world rankings, the men in gold rose as high as third in a year where they’ve beaten international powerhouses including France and South Africa.

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In The Know with Michael Cheika
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In The Know with Michael Cheika

Individuals have also benefited on the back of the side’s success, with captain Michael Hooper and centre Samu Kerevi both including in the four player shortlist for the men’s 15s Player of the Year award.

Coach Dave Rennie has also been nominated for World Rugby’s Coach of the Year, while Test rookie Andrew Kellaway is one of four Breakout Player of the Year finalists.

While these individuals have been recognised for their individual contributions this season, there’s no denying that the Wallabies have an impressive list of players both in and out of the current squad in the United Kingdom. Fraser McReight and Harry Wilson were to big names not included in the Spring Tour squad, with both young players expected to star in the future.

James O’Connor is one player who has missed a lot of rugby this year, having been ruled out for a lot of this year through injury. 31-year-old O’Connor has started at flyhalf in the last Two tests, and is expected to command the Wallabies attack from flyhalf on Sunday morning [AEDT] as well.

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But with the World Cup now less than two years away, O’Connor recently commented on how the depth that the Wallabies have built will serve them well moving forward.

“For sure. I think the depth in the squad is only growing, even some of the guys who have [been] left at home who haven’t come on the Spring Tour,” O’Connor said.

“There’s a lot of guys who have sort of had a taste of Test footy now and who have been around the system who know, I guess, our structures, and know what it takes to win Test matches and how to compete at that level. It’s a huge step up from Super, not only on the playing field but on the training field, the demands are so much more.

“We’ve got 40-50 guys who have been around the squad, it’s only going to put us in better shape leading into this World Cup and leading into the future.”

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Even though they’re coming off two losses, the Wallabies aren’t too far off being able to win these Tests.

The 15-13 loss to Scotland at Murrayfield was clearly very close, as was the loss to England for much of that Test. While the score reads 32-15 to the hosts, only seven-point separated the two sides before a Marcus Smith penalty goal with seven minutes to play.

“The margins are very small over here.

“I guess [it’s] a game based on errors whereas sort of the game back home, we’re trying to more so manipulate defences and open up more creating attacking opportunities. Over here, it’s probably flipped the other way but then again it’s getting that balance of you still have to have the ball to win the game.

“You still want to dominate possessions as well. So for us, playing in front of 80,000 at Twickenham, even just coming into the stadium, a lot of the guys were just overwhelmed with how unreal it was like, what a spectacle.

“It’ll definitely help the group improve because what the plan and what the goal is World Cup, that’s what everyone’s sort of aiming towards.

“If it’s (the World Cup) over this side of the world, it’s only going to be better because I remember playing in France as well. They have full stadiums, similar footy. The decks can change from one week to the next.”

Should O’Connor line up at flyhalf for the Wallabies this weekend, he’ll create a little bit of personal history for himself.

O’Connor made his first appearance for the Wallabies in the 10 jersey a decade ago on the Spring Tour, also against Wales at the then called Millennium stadium.

“It was a short Spring Tour, it was after the 2011 World Cup. I think I’ve spoken about it before, it was all attack.

“We just went all out and yeah, it was a great experience for me, I really enjoyed playing there. I think I always enjoy playing at, well it’s not Millennium anymore, Principality (Stadium).

“It’s an awesome atmosphere, they bring a lot of people into the city, there’s a huge buzz about it.”

The Wallabies will be without captain Michael Hooper for this test match, with the star flanker having been ruled out through injury. Prop James Slipper will instead captain the Australians against Wales.

That Test will kick off this Sunday at 4:30am [AEDT].

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