World Cup captains optimistic if Wallabies' Perth form can be repeated

Rugby World Cup
by Iain Payten

Repeating the form of Perth over a number of weeks will be the key to succeeding at the “toughest World Cup” ever held.

That’s the view of several former Wallabies’ World Cup captains, who gathered at a lunch in their honour in Sydney on Friday.

In a function that doubled as a soft farewell for the Wallabies’ World Cup 31-man squad, who were revealed in the morning but flew to a New Caledonia camp later in the day, the nine ex-captains from 1987 onwards were celebrated.

Andrew Slack was the first Aussie captain at a World Cup, and he was followed by Nick Farr-Jones (1991), Michael Lynagh (1995), John Eales (1999), George Gregan (2003), Stirling Mortlock (2007), James Horwill (2011), Stephen Moore (2015) and current skipper Michael Hooper.

Lynagh and Horwill flew back from London for the event.

"It’s great to be back and to be honest I miss Australia. Not just the country but the people and today will be a great opportunity to catch up with a lot of friends,” Lynagh said.

"It’s nice to be back, albeit for a short period.”

The scale of the World Cup and the team announcements that precede them has grown considerably from Slack’s day.

"Our preparation in the 1987 World Cup was a warm-up match against South Korea, say no more,” Slack said.

All the captains expressed genuine optimism about the Wallabies’ chances at the 2019 World Cup, despite the emerging strength of northern hemisphere teams like England, Ireland and Wales making the tournament a much more contested event.

"It’s not easy and I think this is the toughest World Cup,” Slack said. 

"There are five or six teams with real chances, so to do it three weeks in a row would be special. We are going to have to step up to be able to do it.

"Beating the All Blacks in Perth showed they can do it once. The key to winning World Cups is (winning) week-in, week-out. 

"The confidence they got out of that, despite the fact they didn’t go particularly well the following week, they know there is something there they can work on. It is not as if they’re bashing their head against a brick wall. 

"The trick in a World Cup is to do it three weeks in a row.”

Lynagh is a respected rugby pundit on English television, and watches a lot of games. He believes the Wallabies are as good a chance as any - if they manage to capture their Perth form in a bottle.

"I like their Perth form, I thought that was pretty good. If they can re-create that, we’re in good shape,” he said.

"That was a really important result. As the guys know, and the public and the fans know, they are capable of putting on a performance like that. It just needs to become a bit more consistent. 

"I think our pool is probably one of the easiest ones. There’s Wales - number one side in the world - and Fiji, who are dangerous, but if you get through that, which you’d think we should, whether it’s one or two, you have three games to win the thing after that.

"And if they reproduce that Perth form, then they can do that.”

Gregan, who’s four World Cup appearances will be equalled by Adam Ashley-Cooper in Japan, said he’d noticed a lift in confidence among the Wallabies as he did his guest coaching work with the halves post-Perth.

"It was a real good shot in the arm, to know they can play to that level … they know they can beat (New Zealand) and they can beat anyone in the world,” Gregan said. 

"They beat them comprehensively so that was what was impressive. But consistency is the buzz word. 

"It is a matter of backing that up. The beauty of a World Cup is it is a seven-game tournament, so you want to be building along the way and getting better and better, and once that pointy end starts, you are three wins away. You need to be re-producing that form in Perth, which we know they have. It’s nice to know they can produce.”

Horwill, who was made World Cup captain a few weeks out from the 2011 tournament, said he didn’t think the Wallabies would be too down about their 36-0 loss to the All Blacks in the week after the Optus Stadium win.

"They have been building nicely and obviously the game in Perth was the crescendo of that,” Horwill said.

"The last game was a bit of a blip and there was always going to be a reaction from the Blacks. We probably didn’t have enough patience worth the ball and allowed them to do what they do best.

"But I don’t think they should be too disheartened by that. They’ll keep building well. I think they will go very well."