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How the Wallabies can 'upset a few people' at next year's RWC

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Huw Fairclough/Getty Images)

Australian rugby great Phil Waugh believes the Wallabies can “upset a few people” at next year’s World Cup in France, despite their “disappointing loss record for the year.”

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The Wallabies moved up from eighth to sixth in World Rugby’s official rankings after their win over Wales last weekend, but their position just goes to show how competitive rugby is.

Next year’s Rugby World Cup will be the biggest and best tournament yet, as more teams than ever before can win crunch clashes – we’ve seen that this month.

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The rugby world witnessed history throughout the Autumn Nations Series as Italy beat Australia for the first time, Georgia defeated Wales in Cardiff, and England lost to Argentina at Twickenham for the first time in years.

But that’s not to say that there aren’t strong favourites ahead of the sport’s biggest event, it just goes to show that you can’t quite rule anyone out.

World No. 1 Ireland have held onto their top ranking after an impressive season, which included a historic series win over the All Blacks in New Zealand.

Next on the men’s world rankings are France, who went undefeated throughout the entirety of their 2022 campaign.

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Traditional powerhouses New Zealand and South Africa are currently third and fourth, while England are one spot ahead of the Wallabies.

Waugh, who played in the 2003 World Cup final loss against England in Sydney, highlighted those first four teams as the major contenders for next year’s tournament – but he wouldn’t rule out the Wallabies.

“I’d say France would have to be. In saying that we saw in the Wallabies game against France they’re beatable against France,” Waugh said on Weekend Sport with Jason Pine.

“I still think the All Blacks are going to be a big threat. I think South Africa… overall I think the All Blacks and the Springboks.

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“Ireland, the number one team in the world. They’re very reliant on Johnny Sexton.

“They’d be the four teams and as an Australian and an optimist… I think we could upset a few people too.”

The Wallabies are coming off a stunning end to their season, as they overcame a 21-point deficit with just over 20 minutes to play to beat Wales in Cardiff.

While it was justice for the Wallabies, who had fallen short in three tense battles in the few weeks before, it doesn’t exactly right all the wrongs of the year that was.

Australia began their season with a thrilling win over England in Perth, before losing six of their next eight Tests before heading to Europe.

While they were able to beat Scotland at Murrayfield by one point – flyhalf Blair Kinghorn missed a penalty attempt inside the final minute – Australia lost their next three matches by three points or less.

The Wallabies have potential, and the character they showed this month is incredibly positive for the men in gold moving forward.

But if they’re to challenge the best teams in knockout rugby next year, then indiscipline and inconsistent team selections have to be addressed.

While Australia have plenty of potential in their halves, their go-to nine-10 combination is still unclear. Waugh said that these key players have to step up as it will determine “whether you win or lose a World Cup.”

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“If you look at the history of who has won World Cup’s, you go back to ’87, every team that’s won World Cup’s has had the best nine and 10 – at least up there with one of the best nine and 10’s in the world,” he said.

“When I look at who needs to perform, we need a nine to stand up. Who’s that? We’ve got three choices at the moment between Nic White, Tate McDermott and Jake Gordon so a lot of depth there.

“(Quade) Cooper has done his Achilles so will he be back in time (to play) 10, and I know how much you love Quade Cooper over the ditch there.

“Bernard Foley’s stepped up and performed well when he’s had the opportunity.

“There’s young guys coming through as well… There’s a bit of depth.

“The nine and 10, historically, have been the key players as to whether you win or lose a World Cup.”

As for Trans Tasmin rivals New Zealand, who Waugh called “a big threat” ahead of next year’s World Cup, they’ll be looking to continue their impressive form into 2023.

The All Blacks went unbeaten in their last seven Test matches of the year, and would’ve won them all had it not been for a disastrous collapse against England.

“I was surprised they let the foot off the throat against England, that was a big missed opportunity.

“To end up drawing, it was probably a really disappointing finish for them.

“You put your best team out there and I think it’s still very hard to beat. I think that (what) New Zealand’s been very good at for a long period of time is being able to score points very quickly.

“Looking at the talent across the whole squad in New Zealand, I think if everyone’s fit, it’s going to be a very, very strong All Blacks team going into the World Cup.”

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