By Will Hopper
With the 2019 Rugby World Cup now less than a year away, let’s analyse the recent Autumn Internationals and what they can tell us about the upcoming tournament.
There is no other place to start than with Ireland. The number two ranked team in the world have very much laid down the gauntlet with their recent results; a dominant win against Italy in Chicago, a 28-17 victory over Argentina, their first ever win against the mighty All-Blacks in Dublin and a slaughtering of USA.
Of course there is still the 2019 Six Nations to navigate through early next year but if they can stay injury free, the Irish have quality and depth in all positions which will make them a tournament favourite come next September.
However, the country now has lofty expectations and will the men wearing green be able to deal with the extra pressure?
If matches were won on paper, Ireland will finish top of Pool A and potentially meet New Zealand or South Africa in the quarter-finals. They are by no means easy games but after defeating the All-Blacks for the second time in three contests, confidence is surely coursing through their veins.
The same can’t be said for the Wallabies as Australia finished the 2018 calendar year with just four wins and nine losses.
This 31% win ratio makes them the worst Wallabies team since 1958.
After being defeated by their rivals New Zealand in the final of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Australia head coach Michael Cheika has received much scrutiny for the way he’s tried to rebuild the international side.
The Australian media is up in arms about the amount of changes Cheika has been making to his squad. The constant revolving door on the Wallabies changing room hasn’t allowed them to develop a team chemistry and this was on full display in their 37-18 loss to England.
Fortunately for Australia, they have been drawn a relatively easy group for the 2019 Rugby World Cup. They will have to face Fiji in their opening match but then games against Uruguay and Georgia should be a walk in the park for the two-time World Cup winners.
When we compare how both Ireland and Australia faired against the All-Blacks last month, there are two glaring statistics that stand out; possession and turnovers.
The Irish were able to dominate time on the ball and make themselves at home in the New Zealand half. On the other hand, the Wallabies spent most of their time defending their own try line and they were punished for their 20 turnovers.
When you play against the number one ranked team in the world, you have to take care of the ball and that is exactly what Ireland did when they met the All-Blacks earlier this month. They conceded just 11 turnovers, almost half of what the Australians conceded, and they even forced New Zealand into making 17 turnovers.
If you want to win the 2019 Rugby World Cup, you are more than likely going to have to beat the three-time winners and defending champions and the only teams to have beaten them this year are South Africa and Ireland.