A quarter-final against Scotland will be a relief for Australia after the trials of Pool A
It’s 24 years since Scotland reached the Rugby World Cup semi-finals and the Bravehearts are unlikely to end that sorry record on Sunday. The Scots head to Twickenham to take on arguably the competition’s most impressive performers with Australia now nestled in as solid second favourites to go the distance.
The Wallabies topped Pool A, dubbed the ‘Group of Death’, and produced courageous and confident performances to get the better of Wales, England, Fiji and Uruguay. Last weekend’s triumph against the Welsh caught the imagination as Michael Cheika’s men went down to 13-men and managed to keep the Dragons at bay in an outstanding defensive display.
Australia have made huge strides under Cheika’s leadership and their form over the past 12 months since the former Leinster head coach took charge has really impressed. The Wallabies have now won seven of their previous eight and that includes overcoming the likes of the All Blacks, Springboks and Argentina as well as England and Wales.
Cheika’s troops enjoyed the latter two victories at Twickenham so a return to south-west London this weekend should stand the southern hemisphere side in good stead. The Wallabies have proven too strong for Six Nations opposition in 10 of their last 13 duels with exactly half of those wins beating the -15 point handicap that’s been set this weekend against the Scots.
Vern Cotter’s underdogs have been involved in a number of exciting matches from a neutral perspective but whether their shaky defence can keep the Wallabies at bay remains to be seen. Scotland’s four pool matches all featured more than 50 points with each opponent managing to cross the whitewash.
The Bravehearts leaked four five-pointers last weekend against a physical Samoan side, only eking out a win by three points. Cotter fielded most of his second-string against top seeds South Africa and were convincingly beaten 34-16 but that was their eighth successive loss against southern hemisphere giants.
Four of Scotland’s last five losses against the big-three arrived by at least 15 points and although matches against the Wallabies are infrequent, the nine clashes this century have resulted in six Australian victories by a margin required to beat Sunday’s handicap.
Cotter’s charges have also been dealt two major blows this weekend with suspensions handed out to key performers Ross Ford and Jonny Gray. The depth of Scottish rugby means class ready-made replacements are in short supply and the absence of two leaders is likely to be the defining blow for the Bravehearts.
If Australia play on the front foot, earn set-piece dominance and release their free-flowing strike-runners, the Wallabies are capable of overcoming the 15-point handicap and sealing their place in the semi-finals.
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