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Rugby World Cup: Can Australia challenge for glory in France?

The 2023 Rugby World Cup in France is just around the corner and Australia appear to have it all to do to be considered serious contenders for the trophy.

The scale of their task was highlighted on Saturday as the Wallabies were thrashed 43-12 by World Cup holders South Africa in Pretoria.

That was the first game with Eddie Jones back in charge as head coach and he has a huge task to try and engineer a repeat of the success he enjoyed back in 2003, when Australia reached the World Cup final on home soil.

WhatRugby World Cup 2023
WhereFrance
When8th September - 28th October 2023
How to watchStan Sport, Nine, 9Now
OddsFrance 3.75, New Zealand 4.00, Ireland 5.00, South Africa 5.50, Australia 9.00

Mixed form something of a conundrum

The defeat to the Boks was a major setback for Jones, who has just two months left to get his side ready for the challenge of trying to win the World Cup for a record-equalling third time.

However, the results on their tour of Europe late last year did offer some hope of being able to mount a strong campaign in France.

Narrow wins over Scotland and Wales, as well as a 28-27 defeat in Italy, were not impressive, but hard-fought losses to World Cup hosts France and much-fancied Ireland did show signs that the Wallabies can compete with the very best.

The clash with Ireland was only decided by a Ross Byrne penalty four minutes from time, while Les Bleus needed a Damian Penaud try with five minutes remaining to edge to victory in the Stade de France.

With hosts France currently 3.75 to lift the World Cup for the first time and Ireland 5.00 to be crowned champions, they represent two of the strongest teams in the competition, so 9.00 Australia know that they are capable of competing with the very best.

Pool draw provides a boost

Australia can feel confident of making relatively comfortable progress to the knockout stages, having been placed in Pool C alongside Wales, Fiji, Georgia and Portugal.

That is certainly an easier prospect than Pool A where New Zealand and France will battle it out, or Pool B where Ireland and South Africa meet.

The Wallabies' draw is almost identical to four years ago, when Uruguay for Portugal was the only difference in their group rivals, while Australia also took on both Wales and Fiji back in 2011.

In 2019 a 29-25 defeat to Wales on Chofu proved to be costly as Australia had to settle for runners-up spot in their group and then ran into a rampant England side in the quarter-finals, going down 40-16 in Oita.

This time around not topping the group - Australia are 1.33 to do so - could again result in a last-eight showdown with the Red Rose, but again that could be easier than the alternatives.

With the teams qualifying from Pools A & B paired against each other in the first knockout round, it raises the prospects of two quarter-finals matching up South Africa, France, New Zealand and Ireland.

That situation does offer a realistic prospect of the Wallabies making the semi-finals, from where anything is possible as Jones seeks to emulate the glories of 1991 and 1999 - with the Wallabies 4.00 to reach the final.

Key figures for Jones

Fly-half Carter Gordon is clearly a player head coach Jones has high hopes for, with the youngster scoring a try on his Wallabies debut in the loss to the Springboks on Saturday.

Veteran Quade Cooper had started the game at No.10 and Jones has much to ponder given that the Boks were far from being at full strength.

Home matches against the All Blacks and Argentina are still to come, as well as warm-up clashes with New Zealand again and hosts France, so Jones has some big decisions to make before settling on his XV for their tournament opener against Georgia.

He will no doubt be hoping for major influence from the experienced pair of Michael Hooper and James Slipper, while winger Marika Koroibete - who scored an early try in Pretoria - has the quality to take opportunities if they can be created.

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