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How the Wallabies have proved themselves as 2023 World Cup contenders

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

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2021 was mostly a successful year for the Wallabies, with some promising and captivating performances reaffirming their credentials as a potential World Cup contender less than two years out from the sports penultimate event.


But winning just 50 percent of their matches this year, they probably aren’t quite at the level where they would be considered by rugby fans as anything more than a dark horse for the World Cup.

However, the Wallabies have shown this year they’re on their way back to their best, and that’s exciting for fans of the sport around the world.

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Australia began their season with an incredibly competitive three-test series against France, which they won two matches to one. The first two tests were decided by just two points, before the hosts won the third by three in Brisbane.

While three consecutive losses to the All Blacks followed, keeping the Bledisloe Cup on the other side of the Tasman for another year, the Wallabies bounced back in a big way over the next five tests.

Quade Cooper helped lead the resurgence as the Wallabies won all five of those matches. That included two unforgettable wins over reigning World Cup winners South Africa, including a convincing 13-point victory in Brisbane.

The Wallabies’ fifth win during that streak, and their final victory for the year, came in Oita against Japan last month. Outside of a World Cup year, this was the first time since 2008 that the Wallabies had won five tests in a row.


Prior to their end-of-year trip to the United Kingdom, the Wallabies had already established themselves as a team well and truly on the rise, but Cooper, Samu Kerevi and Sean McMahon were all made unavailable for this leg of the Spring Tour.

Their absences proved costly as a defeat to Scotland at Murrayfield was the first of three losses on a winless tour to finish their season.

But, as will be discussed shortly, it’s not all bad for the Wallabies who can still take positives out of their losses moving on to 2022.

2021 Record: Seven wins from 14 matches


2021 Grade: B

One line to sum up the 2021 Wallabies: A team on the rise who is only going to get better.

What did 2021 prove about the Wallabies?

2021 was an important challenge for the Wallabies, who, under Dave Rennie, had their first season testing themselves against teams from both the southern and northern hemispheres.

In these matches, they showed that they have the potential to be a contender for the World Cup in 2023.

Even though they lost all three of their tests in the UK, the Wallabies proved to the world that they aren’t far off the mark when it comes to beating the best teams in the north.

The Wallabies were beating Scotland until the 69th minute, when a Finn Russell penalty goal handed the home side the lead before going on to win 15-13.

Then, during the following week’s 32-15 loss to England at Twickenham, it was a seven-point game until Marcus Smith converted a penalty goal with seven minutes to play.

In their final test of the year against Wales, a 14-man Wallabies side were leading the Six Nations champions until well after the siren, before a Rhys Priestland penalty decided that test.

So, really, it seems like the Wallabies were just mere minutes away from being able to overcome these thrillers against some of Europe’s finest.

They aren’t far off, and that’s when they’ve arguably been understrength without the likes of Kerevi and Cooper unavailable, as was captain Michael Hooper in the test against Wales.

This year was also a useful marker for the men in gold who showed just how far they’ve improved on last year.

In Rennie’s first season in charge of the Wallabies, they won just one from six matches played. Three of those results were also draws, with two of them coming against Argentina.

The Wallabies faced Los Pumas twice again this year and didn’t seem to have too many problems this time around. They won the first match 27-8, and the second 32-17.

The two wins against South Africa, though, may go down in history as a turning point for this side ahead of the World Cup.

While the first of these matches on the Gold Coast was a tense thriller, the second match in Brisbane was one that the Wallabies largely controlled.

They showed this year that they’re capable of winning Ttsts against literally the world’s best side at the moment, and they’re not far off beating others of a similar calibre.

Their Best Player

It seems as though there are two players who are leading the race for this honour.

Hooper and Kerevi were both nominated for one of World Rugby’s highest individual honours earlier this year, that being the 15s Men’s Player of the Year award.

While he’s an incredible player, it was arguably a surprise to see Kerevi as one of the four players nominated, considering he’s only played a handful of tests this year.

That leads me to suggest that Hooper has clearly been the Wallabies’ best player once again this year, and it wouldn’t be a complete surprise to see him win his fourth John Eales Medal.

As I wrote in a piece last week, ahead of the final tests of the year, Hooper had won 10 more turnovers than the next best Wallabies player. He was also leading the likes of Ardie Savea and Siya Kolisi by some margin in that area of the game.

Without going into it too much, Hooper had one of his best seasons in Wallabies gold after returning from a sabbatical in Japan.

It would be a big surprise not to see him rewarded for his efforts on the field as Australia’s top player, as well as possibly the world’s best.

Breakout Player

The Wallabies have added to their depth really well this year, and it’ll no doubt serve them well throughout this World Cup cycle.

There are a number of players who made their debuts this year and performed very well, including Len Ikitau and Darcy Swain. But, quite clearly, Andrew Kellaway has been a superstar.

The 26-year-old has been nominated for World Rugby’s Breakout Player of the Year award, and it’s not difficult to understand why. In his first season in the green and gold, he crossed for nine tries, and has a great understanding of the game.

The Wallabies have well and truly found a gem in Kellaway this season, and considering other up-and-coming players at their disposal, it’s an exciting time for Australian rugby fans.

What to expect in 2022

It’d be easy just to say that the Wallabies need to win more games next year to be successful, but, really, the Wallabies just need to continue building this consistency both week-to-week, as well as across 80 minutes.

The improvements that they’ve made this year have been clear for all to see, and if they continue on this upward trend, then this side may just be on the cusp of something special.

I’m sure the Wallabies would love another chance at Scotland, England and Wales, but with another year of development under the belt, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Wallabies win two of these three tests should they meet again next year.

As for the Rugby Championship, this team has the potential to contend with South Africa and the All Blacks. Also, getting some wins over those sides a year before the World Cup would also be invaluable for Rennie’s side.

I expect the Wallabies to show the rugby world next season that their competitiveness this year was far from a fluke, as they prove why they’re a team to watch out for come France 2023.


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