Where the Wallabies stand

The Lions won't be facing the world champions in 2013 - that's the view of one of the world's most-decorated coaches. [more]

Where the Wallabies stand

The Lions won’t be facing the world champions in 2013 – that’s the view of one of the world’s most-decorated coaches.

Britain and Ireland’s elite have taken on the reigning World Cup holders in three of their last four tours, beating the Springboks in 1997 before losing out in Australia in 2001 and South Africa last summer.

The Lions travel back Down Under in three years time to face the Wallabies – two years after the latest instalment of World Cup rugby in New Zealand.

The All Blacks may yet again be the runaway favourites for the game’s biggest prize but Australia remain in the top three in the world and can boast an impressive World Cup record of two finals wins, a second-place finish and a semi-final appearance since the competition’s inception in 1987.

But two defeats from three games in this season’s Tri Nations has seen former Wallaby boss Bob Dwyer already write off his country’s chances of success next year – unless they make substantial changes to personnel.

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"I figure that (Salesi) Mafu, (James) Slipper, (Dean) Mumm, (Richard) Brown and both Faingaa brothers (Saia and Anthony) are not up to international standard. I can’t see a winning World Cup team with even one of these players starting," Dwyer wrote in his column on heavensgames.com.

"(James) O’Connor is not an international class winger. He lacks the pace required for the position and in the “kick chase”, he looks like he’s going up and down on the one spot. Surely (Lachlan) Turner or (Cameron) Shepherd are much better.

"Anthony Faingaa was found wanting in defence and on three occasions lined up against nobody, such was his indecision. These defensive lapses cost his team badly and, given that his attack is hardly scintillating, made his selection questionable.

"Ryan Cross and Will Chambers are both class players and this would enable Adam Ashley-Cooper to play fullback and, dare I say it, contest the spot with Kurtley Beale."

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The Wallabies have now lost two of their first three Tri Nations games

Australia were beaten 20-10 in Christchurch on Saturday – their second defeat to the All Blacks in as many weeks.

Although the manner of defeat was far less substantial than the seven-try hammering in Melbourne the previous weekend, the Wallabies never really looked like handing New Zealand a first Test loss in 13 matches against all opposition.

Kurtly Beale’s fine solo try was the only occasion the Wallabies were able to breach an impressive home defence despite the current Australian backline being widely heralded for its attacking invention.

Dwyer has no doubt that the gulf in class between the two teams is getting wider and the former Leicester, Bristol and New South Wales Waratahs boss lays the blame firmly at the feet of Wallaby head coach Robbie Deans and his assistants Jim Williams and Richard Graham.

"Saturday’s game was really “more of the same” from both teams. The All Blacks played well – again! – and the Wallabies played poorly – again!" added Dwyer, who led Australia to World Cup glory in London 19 years ago.

 "Certainly, there was more spirit and determination from the Wallabies and they had clearly worked on their restarts – both chasing and receiving. They probably out-pointed their opponents in this aspect of the game, but that was the only win for them.

"The All Blacks look to me like a genuine “work in progress” team, with progress the key word, and vision and knowledge the driving forces.

"Alas, I cannot say the same about the Wallabies. They look like they have no idea of how to get where they clearly have the desire, passion and determination to go.

"Week by week we seem to be getting deeper and deeper into the mire, and the longer we go, the longer it will take us to extricate ourselves. Selection is a vital part, perhaps the most vital part, of the coaching role and, from where I’m sitting, we are getting it horribly wrong. We’ve got babies in the front row and each week our scrum is getting dished up.

"Attention to detail is everything and is the responsibility of the coaching staff. They are letting their players down. Let me just say that we are all sick of it! We want to see some direction and some progress, now."

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The All Blacks currently look better than the Wallabies in attack and defence

Dwyer’s analysis clearly doesn’t make pretty reading for the Wallabies. And although Deans and the Australian Rugby Union aren’t likely to pay too much attention to the 69-year-old’s assessment, the general state of play at the halfway stage of the Tri Nations must be a worry.

The opening win over South Africa was greeted with plenty of praise but the performances that have followed have left critics suggesting that that result just papered over some old cracks.

Throw in the fact that the Boks were clearly jaded following two heavy defeats in New Zealand and appeared desperate to get back to South Africa and suddenly the Wallabies look like heavy favourites to finish bottom of the Tri Nations pile once more.

Lat season ended with just one Tri Nations wins – again, against South Africa at home – and few would bet against a similar outcome this time around.

The Wallabies face daunting trips to Pretoria and Bloemfontein on August 28 and September 4 before a final match at home to New Zealand a week later, by which time last place could already be theirs, leaving pride the only thing left to play for.

It’s true that two wins for the Boks over the All Blacks and three straight victories for the Wallabies could still see Australia crowned southern hemisphere kings but you’d get far shorter odds on a repeat of the disappointments of 2009 rather than a first Tri Nations title since 2001.

So where does that leave the Wallabies when it comes to building towards the 2011 World Cup and the 2013 Lions tour?

The answer isn’t a straightforward one. There’s no doubt that Deans has an array of mouth-watering talent at his disposal. The likes of Will Genia, Quade Cooper, Matt Giteau and Rocky Elsom are truly outstanding players and could well be even better by the time the two aforementioned milestones head into view.

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Will Genia and Rocky Elsom are two of Australia's brightest stars 

If O’Connor, Kurtley Beale and Digby Ioane fulfil their obvious potential then they too could be serious world-class competitors come World Cup and the Lions, while Ben Alexander, Benn Robinson and Stephen Moore could finally give the Wallabies a firm front-row footing if they can all stay fit.

The problem for Deans and his team seems to be consistency. There’s plenty of potential but winning on a regular basis still seems to be beyond them. One match of promise followed by two or three packed with problems appears to be the current pattern.

It’s fair to say that their deficiencies are being exposed by the world’s best but defeat to England in the summer, just a week after totally out-classing the same opponents, suggests the Wallabies are currently a vulnerable outfit.

The then world champion Wallabies went into their last Lions tour having held the Bledisloe Cup since 1998 yet, unless improvements are made, they could have been without the coveted trophy for a depressing 10 years by the time the next crop of Lions come calling.

New Zealand have now held the trophy for the past eight seasons, having regained it in 2002 and won it outright on five occasions since.

Saturday’s reverse at the Jade Stadium was the Wallabies’ eighth-straight defeat to their bitter rivals, with Deans’ men failing to beat his country of origin since their opening meeting in the 2008 Tri Nations.

The stats don’t look good for the Wallabies but time is at least on their side.

Next year’s World Cup may come a little too soon but you’d be a brave man to bet against the Wallabies being anything other than ultra competitive come 2013.

Australians rarely lose for long when it comes to sport and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they turned things around for that rare Lions visit.

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