In 2015, Michael Cheika’s Australia were within 80 minutes of World Cup glory but fell short against one of the greatest New Zealand teams ever.
The Wallabies were second best on that day but you could argue that Australia have closed the gap to their great rivals in the last couple of years.
As recently as August, the Aussies were denied a famous victory by a very late Beauden Barrett try – Cheika’s men are getting closer.
Barrett was on top form that day, kicking five from five at goal and touching down for two tries of his own.
And if truth be told, that is the ultimate difference between New Zealand and Australia right now.
The Wallabies have an organised unit but Steve Hansen is blessed with a plethora of match winners; the All Blacks are capable of turning a game on its head in a matter of moments.
With an average age of around 26, Australia’s current crop of stars are talented and in the middle of their peak years.
Being in prime form and condition is vital for success on the big stage and the 2019 World Cup in Tokyo may be Cheika’s primary target.
In Australia’s latest squad, only two men (Sekope Kepu and Stephen Moore) were above the age of 30; and the latter actually pulled out of the squad shortly after.
Australia are heading into the unknown a little bit in that they have a young, inexperienced squad, but Cheika knows just how talented they are.
With fewer than two years to wait until rugby’s ultimate international competition, the likes of Bernard Foley (27), Kurtley Beale (28) and national captain Michael Hooper (25) will be primed to lead the Wallabies to another World Cup crown – and Adam Coleman’s influence will also be welcomed.
— Qantas Wallabies (@qantaswallabies) June 20, 2017
At the time of writing, Australia are the third most likely side to win the 2019 event behind the All Blacks and Eddie Jones’ England.
According to the latest odds, Cheika’s side are 11/2 to be crowned World Cup winners in Japan and plenty of punters will be keen to back the Wallabies – especially based on recent efforts.
It is hard to put too much faith in their head-to-head record against New Zealand but in sport, you never know.
Australia have been drawn alongside Fiji, Georgia, Wales and an unknown Americas side in Group D and Cheika will be confident of advancing to the knockout stages.
Barring a major shock in New Zealand’s group, finishing top of Pool D would ensure that Australia avoid the All Blacks until the final.
Both Wales and Australia will be desperate to emerge victorious and a titanic battle between the two nations awaits.
New Zealand have won their last seven fixtures against Australia but the manner of their latest success may give the Wallabies a boost.
Cheika’s side were an equal match for the mighty All Blacks on that day but one lapse in concentration made all the difference.
On any given day, Australia can defeat this New Zealand side and with two years to prepare, the Wallabies might just get it right at the 2019 World Cup.