Wallabies face their toughest RWC

It’s just as well Michael Cheika loves a challenge.

The task faced by his Wallabies’ at the eighth Rugby World Cup is arguably the toughest in two-time winners Australia’s history at the global showpiece.

It’s testimony to Cheika’s work in less than 11 months at the helm that bookies rate his team fourth favourites for the title despite their brutal draw.

Not only must they scrap through in the top two from the group of death – aka Pool A – but they’ll be desperate to finish top in order to avoid a quarter-final against likely Pool B winner South Africa, who have beaten them in four of their past five World Cup clashes.

Standing in their way in Pool A are fellow traditional heavyweights England and Wales, a Fiji side tipped to provide a mighty challenge and Uruguay.

Winning the pool would see Australia play the second team from Pool B in the quarter-finals with Scotland and Samoa in contention.

Cheika has played his selection cards close, having chopped and changed the team throughout their winter campaign which took them from world No.6 to second behind the world champion All Blacks after securing the Rugby Championship.

He insists he’s known his best starting team for a while and the constant altering of his side was part of a master plan.

It’s expected that best team will be on display for the opening game against Fiji in Cardiff on September 23.

Boasting a host of players based with northern hemisphere clubs, the Fijians have added more structure to their always dynamic game under Kiwi coach John McKee, making them a dangerous proposition.

Australia will then roll out their B team for the clash with Uruguay a week later at Villa Park in Birmingham.

Then things get very serious as the Wallabies face England at Twickenham on October 3 before returning to the same venue to face Wales.

Both England and Wales play an exciting brand of rugby with plenty of strike power on the edges.

England, particularly, will fancy their chances of manhandling the Wallabies’ long-maligned scrum.

But Cheika saw that coming and hired four-time Argentina World Cup hooker Mario Ledesma as scrum coach, a move that proved so successful that the Wallaby eight dominated the All Blacks scrum in the Sydney Test win.

Expect Cheika to revisit the dual openside flanker combination of Michael Hooper at No.7 and ball pilferer David Pocock at No.8 that rattled the All Blacks in the loose in Sydney.

Giant lock Kane Douglas has made giant strides in returning to fitness from back surgery and looks set to add a harder edge to the pack in his enforcer role at the breakdowns.

But it’s in the halves where Australia’s success or failure may lie.

That no one can categorically state who the best halfback is out of Nick Phipps and Will Genia, or the best five eighth out of Bernard Foley and Quade Cooper, speaks volumes for the fact that none of the four has really excelled in the past year.

The most controversial selection issue has revolved around Cheika picking only two specialist hookers – Stephen Moore and Tatafu Polota-Nau.

Prop Scott Sio, who played as a rake at junior level, is the third-choice hooker, should Moore or Polota-Nau suffer a short-term injury.

Should any of the specialist hookers cop a tournament-ending injury, then James Hanson will be called into the squad.

Cheika has shown enormous faith in some players, notably Douglas and overseas-based duo Matt Giteau and winger Drew Mitchell.

But fullback Israel Folau is the go-to man for the Wallabies and he will be keen to show what he’s got on the biggest stage at his first World Cup.

Should the Wallabies provide a decent platform, it will allow Folau to chime in and terrorise defences.

The Wallabies come into the tournament, armed with a good record at World Cups in the United Kingdom with both of their wins (1991 and 1999) coming in the northern hemisphere.

In England’s favour is the fact the hosts have reached the final of the World Cup in five of the seven tournaments played.

England are the only northern hemisphere team to have won the tournament, after beating Australia to win the 2003 final in Sydney.

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