Just how good are these Wallabies?
SPOTLIGHT: A five-Test winning run has lifted the Wallabies to third on the World Rugby rankings but just how real that improvement is will be proven on the fields of Europe in November.
Despite the early loss of fullback Reece Hodge, Australia overcame stubborn resistance from Japan on Saturday to make a winning start to their 2021 end-of-year tour.
The 32-23 win over the Brave Blossoms in Oita means the Wallabies have won five straight Tests for the first time since the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
That streak began with impressive back-to-back home wins over world champions South Africa during the Rugby Championship.
They were followed, however, by two home victories against an Argentina squad having a Rugby Championship to forget and then Saturday’s less-than-convincing win over Japan.
The challenge that lies ahead for Dave Rennie’s team to become the first Wallabies squad to return from Europe undefeated on a three or four-Test end-of-year tour since 1996 is sterner.
The European swing begins at Murrayfield against Scotland before taking on Eddie Jones’ England at Twickenham.
The tour wraps up with a trip to Cardiff to face Six Nations champions Wales.
While under no illusion of how difficult the next month will be for his team, captain Michael Hooper believes the winning run has created a morale within the squad they can draw upon.
“We’re about to enter a place and play away from home, far away from home, which we haven’t done in a long time,” Hooper said ahead of the Wallabies’ first trip to Europe since 2018.
“We’re right in the perfect time as a group to take on that challenge. [Saturday] was really nice to get that result and I guess show a couple of areas that we can improve but also still tick over a win there.
“Take that up north and take on some of these European teams.”
Rennie confirmed after the Japan win that Hodge will travel with the team on Sunday to London as they await scans on his pectoral muscle injury, putting him in doubt for the three upcoming Tests.
Veteran playmaker Quade Cooper will feature however after discussions between the Wallabies coach and his Japanese club resulted with him continuing on the tour.