Australia kick-off their European tour this Saturday knowing their next hurdle will be the summer series against the Lions.
The Wallabies travel to Paris, London, Florence and Cardiff for four successive Tests against northern hemisphere opposition as all thoughts begin to turn to the 2013 fixtures with Britain and Ireland’s elite.
Numerous high-profile Aussies have admitted that the Lions are now well and truly on their mind, with the likes of Nathan Sharpe and David Pocock speaking of the importance of the November and December internationals in terms of preparation for what lies ahead in June and July.
But what will the next month or so tell us about the task the Lions face in seven months’ time?
The Wallabies arrived in France earlier this week having copped a vast amount of criticism in 2012. A shock loss to Scotland and the narrowest of series successes against Wales was followed by three Rugby Championship defeats, including a humiliating nilling in Auckland and 31-8 reverse to the Springboks in Pretoria.
Head coach Robbie Deans has had his position publicly questioned; Quade Cooper has been heavily fined after describing the atmosphere within Australian camp as ‘toxic’; and a raft of key players have seen their season disrupted or even wiped out through injury.
In that light, things look far from rosy for the Wallabies, but only a fool would write them off this autumn. And on closer inspection it is far easier to be an optimistic Aussie that it might at first appear.
Despite all their disruptions, the Lions’ next opponents still finished second in the Rugby Championship table and they’re still ranked number two in the world. They drew with the world champion All Blacks in their last outing – the first time the Kiwis have failed to win a Test in their last 17 attempts against all opposition – and they’ve blooded a whole host of new stars as a result of their sickening injury statistics.
No side in the world would have been able to cope seamlessly without the likes of James Horwill, Will Genia, Wycliff Palu, James O’Connor, Stephen Moore, Drew Mitchell, Cooper and Pocock for large chunks of the year, not to mention the almost endless list of names who were unavailable for one, two or three of their international fixtures.
And, while the Wallabies may have had had to endure some woes on the way, they appear to have come through them all the stronger. They somehow won in Argentina when forced to field what was effectively a second-string side and they backed that up by almost beating the All Blacks when they were odds on for another drubbing.
Those results undoubtedly raised spirits within the set up and the return of Pocock, Moore, Digby Ioane, Berrick Barnes and Adam Ashley-Cooper and co has heightened the mood even further, even if stars of the ilk of Horwill, O’Connor, Cooper, Mitchell, Ben McCalman, Joe Tomane, Cooper Vuna and Saia Fainga’a are all still recovering at home.
Optimism will reach new heights at the end of the year if the Wallabies can head home undefeated at the end of what has been a long old season for Deans and co. A year that started so poorly with defeat against the Scots would suddenly be viewed as closer to a success than a failure if they can see of the French, English, Italians and Welsh on foreign soil.
Just imagine the boost four wins from four would hand a Wallaby squad under the cosh for so much of this campaign, and imagine how mouthwatering it would make next summer’s Lions adventure down south.
Wallabies touring squad
Backs: Nick Phipps, Brett Sheehan, Kurtley Beale, Berrick Barnes, Pat McCabe, Anthony Faingaa, Ben Tapuai, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Digby Ioane, Nick Cummins, Drew Mitchell, Mike Harris
Forwards: Benn Robinson, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Ben Alexander, Paddy Ryan, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Stephen Moore, James Hanson, Nathan Sharpe (capt), Sitaleki Timani, Kane Douglas, Rob Simmons, Dave Dennis, David Pocock, Michael Hooper, Liam Gill, Wycliff Palu, Radike Samo
Australia’s autumn fixtures
v France, Saturday November 10, Stade de France
v England, Saturday November 17, Twickenham
v Italy, Saturday November 24, Franchi Stadium, Florence
v Wales, Saturday December 1, Millennium Stadium
Wallaby results since the start of the 2011 World Cup:
Played 20, won 13, lost 6, drawn 1
|Oct 20, 2012||New Zealand||Brisbane||D 18-18|
|Oct 7, 2012||Argentina||Rosario||W 25-19|
|Sep 30, 2012||South Africa||Pretoria||L 31-8|
|Sep 15, 2012||Argentina||Gold Coast||W 23-19|
|Sep 8, 2012||South Africa||Perth||W 26-19|
|Aug 25, 2012||New Zealand||Auckland||L 22-0|
|Aug 18, 2012||New Zealand||Sydney||L 27-19|
|Jun 23, 2012||Wales||Sydney||W 20-19|
|Jun 16, 2012||Wales||Melbourne||W 25-23|
|Jun 9, 2012||Wales||Brisbane||W 27-19|
|Jun 5, 2012||Scotland||Newcastle||L 9-6|
|Dec 3, 2011||Wales||Milennium Stadium||W 24-18|
|Nov 26, 2011||Barbarians||Twickenham||W 60-11|
|Oct 21, 2011||Wales||Auckland||W 21-18|
|Oct 16, 2011||New Zealand||Auckland||L 20-6|
|Oct 9, 2011||South Africa||Wellington||W 11-9|
|Oct 1, 2011||Russia||Nelson||W 68-22|
|Sep 23, 2011||USA||Wellington||W 67-5|
|Sep 17, 2011||Ireland||Auckland||L 15-8|
|Sep 11, 2011||Italy||North Shore||W 32-6|