Wallabies are World Cup favourites: Waugh

The ripples won’t take long to reach New Zealand, but former Wallabies captain Phil Waugh believes Australia have wrestled World Cup favouritism from the All Blacks.

Waugh says Australia’s comprehensive win over England, in particular the dominance of the scrum, has left the Wallabies as the team to beat entering the knockout stages.

“I’d have to say we’re probably the favourites at the moment,” Waugh told AAP ahead of the Wallabies’ Pool A decider against Wales at Twickenham on Saturday (Sunday AEDT).

“The way we’ve been playing not only brings confidence but it also changes the perception of referees and that can be very important.

“So now it’s all about retaining that momentum and obviously beating Wales.”

Although the defending champions and top-ranked All Blacks remain strong favourites with bookmakers, Waugh’s provocative assessment blows Michael Cheika’s claims for underdog status out of the water.

Waugh’s comments are also sure to stir the All Blacks into life, with coach Steve Hansen certain to use the big talk coming out of Australia as motivational fodder for the all-conquering World Cup and Bledisloe Cup holders.

Waugh is hugely impressed by Cheika’s ability to stamp his authority on the Wallabies – and restore harmony after Ewen McKenzie’s acrimonious departure – just 11 months and 12 Tests into his national coaching reign.

“It’s probably everything that Cheika brings to the team. Culturally, they look like a very tight-knight group,” Waugh said.

“I’ve had a little bit to do with them on the inside but certainly watching them from the outside you can just see that they’re a very happy group, very confident in what they’re doing.

“They keep talking about their identity so they certainly know their identity and that’s such a big piece in being successful in World Cups.”

Waugh stopped short of declaring Australia’s dynamic back row the best in the world but said it had been integral to the Wallabies’ resurgence after they slipped to No.6 in the world earlier this year, their lowest-ever ranking.

“The back row has been outstanding. But the back row is playing behind a tight five that’s been most dominant,” he said.

“So the forwards are setting the platform and (five-eighth) Bernard Foley had the luxury of playing behind a dominant forward pack on Saturday afternoon.

“That allows us to play our way and gives the backs so much freedom to play.

“But, for me, the forwards have been very impressive.

“In particular, the scrum and and then what Hooper, Pocock and Fardy bring to the breakdown, it’s a quite comprehensive forward pack.”

Waugh, though, knows the tables can quickly turn and says it’s imperative the Wallabies topple Wales to avoid a treacherous knockout draw.

“No team has ever won the World Cup after losing a pool match so there’s all these little things,” he said.

“It’s not impossible if they lose this, but it’s a lot harder if you have to play South Africa in the quarter-finals and then probably the All Blacks in the semis.”

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