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The Autumn Internationals Preview: Australia

By Hayden Donnell
Israel Folau

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Wallabies Schedule
vs Wales – Saturday November 5, 10:30pm (HKT)
vs Scotland – Saturday November 12, 10:30pm (HKT)
vs France – Sunday November 20, 4:00am (HKT)
vs Ireland – Sunday November 27, 1:30am (HKT)
vs England – Saturday December 3, 10:30pm (HKT)

The Wallabies have had a disappointing year after reaching the final of the Rugby World Cup in 2015. They lost a test series 3-0 to England in Australia and were largely unconvincing in the Rugby Championship despite finishing second. Can they turn their fortunes around on a Grand Slam tour of Europe this Autumn?

What to look out for
Whether Israel Folau is still Israel Folau. The Wallabies star has scored just three tries in the last two international seasons, and looked flat during the Rugby Championship. Australia’s success will hinge on whether he returns to his terrifying top form. Luckily he’ll have a clear, focused mind for the tour, after getting the nerve-wracking work of asking New Zealand netballer Maria Tutaia to marry him out of the way.

Strengths
The Wallabies are still resplendent with strike weapons, from Folau to Will Genia, Quade Cooper and the debutant league crossover Marika Koroibete. When David Pocock and Michael Hooper are good they are one of the best loosehead combinations in the world. But mainly, the side will rely on the intimidation inflicted on opposing sides by their terrifying mascot Wally the Wallaby.

WALLY IN TERRIFYING ACTION. PHOTO: GETTY
WALLY IN TERRIFYING ACTION. PHOTO: GETTY
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Weaknesses
A visceral, paralysing fear of clowns. Just being drawn as a clown was enough to send Australian coach Michael Cheika into a paroxysm of anger and recriminations recently. His terror revealed a crack in the Wallaby armour. Expect Gethin Jenkins to dress up like Pennywise from It on Saturday.

It’s not just the coulrophobia though; the Wallabies’ forward play is a concern. They missed roughly 36,000 tackles in the Rugby Championship. According to Ian McGeechan, and most people with eyes, their scrum has been terrible. They were also apparently short on conditioning coming into the international season, after being churned out soft and blubbery by their tackling-averse Super Rugby franchises. Has the Australian pack run up enough hills and sand dunes to match up with the borderline criminal ruffians that litter sides like England and Wales?

Coaching situation
So what if Michael Cheika isn’t 100% competent? At least he’s entertaining. The Wallabies coach is the antithesis of monotone All Blacks schlub Steve Hansen, raging out out loudly and at-length over everything from disallowed tries to contract decisions.

He recently expanded into physical comedy, getting his shoulder broken by one of his own players, then declaring himself “out for the season”. It may get some people off-side, but it’s definitely popular with players, and good for the game.

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Player to watch
Stephen Moore. The inspirational Wallaby captain / orc chief Azog from the Hobbit movies has taken to moving around the rugby field with the agility of a middle-aged drunk. He’s tough and quick to breakdowns, but is increasingly prone to looking like he has a mix of arthritis and diarrhea when forced to move laterally. Can he still inspire improved tackling performances from his forwards?

If his effort against the All Blacks on October 22 is anything to go by, the answer is “probably”. Moore played one of his best games in ages in the Eden Park test. Unfortunately the Wallabies still lost 37-10.

Best chance of an upset
Getting the Grand Slam. It’s still not beyond the Wallabies. But it’d take a momentous effort.

Prediction
Win vs Wales. Win vs Scotland. Win vs France. Win vs Ireland. Loss vs England.

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