Matt Burke: Australia need to play as a unit

Matt Burke 23/09/2015
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X-factor: Israel Folau (c) can be the Wallabies star player in this tournament.

I predicted before the England game that Fiji would be a wake-up call for them. The Fijians bring plenty of physicality but they also have the ability to surprise.

Look at 2007 when they qualified ahead of Wales and nearly knocked off South Africa in the quarter-final.

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Australia will play their number one team against Fiji, the number two team against Uruguay and then have the best team back on the pitch for the next two games against England and Wales.

They need to get some combinations going. I think that has been the criticism this year, especially in the last game against New Zealand where Michael Cheika changed the team around. There was a lot of head-scratching.

I think for the Wallabies’ sake, they need to work out a pecking order. I don’t think boys should be too disappointed if they’re on the bench or outside of the team because quite naturally there is a number one team, they just have to work that out.

In that sense, fly-half seems to be a real conundrum for Cheika.

I think Matt Toomua could easily occupy that role. I think he might be a bench player, a cameo toward the end of the game to add that flatness to the game. Take the ball on.

My choice would have been the New South Wales pair at nine and 10, with Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley. The other one in contention is obviously Quade Cooper. I just don’t know about having two ‘X-factor’ players in the team. Israel Folau is one.

He certainly has the ability to do something special but I think sometimes in the 10 role you have to be quite boring, catch the ball and pass, catch the ball and pass, kick to the corner and then have a dart and give the space to the other guy to dissect. That might be cancelled out if Cooper was in the team. I think he will play a part as the tournament goes on.

I think Fiji is a good opener for Australia. There’s no secrets for the Australians, they just have to go out there and win that game. I expect them to win and win well in the end but it’ll be tough. These tier two teams do have talent.

They’re getting better and competing for longer, maybe not for the full 80 minutes yet and that’s why they are maybe just outside the top 10, but they will stress Australia, as they did England, and they’ll do it to Wales too. There’s a bit of history also, with a few Fijians in the Wallabies team, so I suppose they’ll want to smash into our blokes.

That is part of growing through a tournament. You have to get these games under your belt and deal with them to be able to win a World Cup. 

*Matt Burke was capped 81 times by Australia and was part of the 1999 World Cup-winning team

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#360LIVE: Rugby World Cup 2015 updates

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Who is going to win the Rugby World Cup?

Each day, with our friends at Kicca, Sport360 will be bringing you a Rugby World Cup 2015 live blog, featuring rugby legends including Jonah Lomu, Lewis Moody and Shane Williams. 

Day Six brings three games: Scotland entertain Japan, Australia play Fiji, and France are in action against Romania. Follow all the action LIVE right here.

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Japan must learn to live with the hype

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Japan have an outstanding chance of reaching the World Cup quarter-finals.

It’s a telling indication of Japan’s new-found status as everyone’s second-favourite team that within 24 hours of the Brave Blossoms seismic defeat of South Africa, the Rugby World Cup’s official merchandise store on London’s Oxford Street was forced to close due to overwhelming demand for the team shirt.

Manufacturers Canterbury cannot keep up with demand – the shirt is totally sold out in Ireland – to the extent neutrals heading to Kingsholm today and leaning towards Japan will be wearing Gloucester’s own cherry and white shirt in support.

– All Blacks: Sonny Bill expects improvement

– England: Haskell relishing critical Wales tie
– Interview: Burke – Aussies can go all the way

It’s pretty well-established now  Sunday’s victory was the greatest upset in the Rugby World Cup, if not any World Cup.

It transcended the sport itself as coverage of the game went beyond sports pages. It’s not hyperbolic to suggest it’s been the finest sporting moment of 2015 so far. But a different test now awaits, and it’s not just in the form of a Scottish side who have spent the past six days kicking their heels on the training ground.

For Japan cannot allow themselves to get caught up in the moment and let what was a miraculous and historic result, that will be remembered for decades, define this tournament for them.

Their fast hands and attacking intent caught the eye but the percentages must be played, and probably improved, to overcome an emerging Scottish side

Given the nature of Pool B, they now have an outstanding chance of reaching the quarter-finals. Never mind the so-called Pool of Death in group A – only three teams are really progressing from there – in Japan’s group it’s any one of five still; the USA showed enough in their loss to Samoa that they can trouble each of their rivals.

Despite their own loss, South Africa could even match Japan’s results from hereon in and providing they score bonus point victories, and the Asian side don’t, pip them to the post at the top of the pool.

This will undoubtedly have been drummed into the players’ heads over the past four day by Eddie Jones, a canny coach who’s been around the block long enough not to bask too long in the afterglow of a result. Because a heavy defeat against the Scots, a scenario that is more than probable, would undo a lot of the hard work done so far.

The slight cliche of Japan solely being a free-flowing, vibrant team that likes to spin the ball out to the backs, was laid to rest on Saturday as they out-scrummaged one of the heaviest and most fearsome packs in the world. Japan’s set piece, both at the scrum and lineout, was impressive throughout and helped lay the bedrock for their success.

Their fast hands and attacking intent, particularly in the final 15 minutes, caught the eye but the percentages must be played, and probably improved, to overcome an emerging Scottish side.

Indeed, 26 missed tackles is not a statistic Jones will want repeated against Scotland’s clever backline.

Japan’s secret is also out and any chance of them being underestimated has been firmly removed. Had the Scots played them first up, they too may well have been defeated.

Scheduling also goes against the Japanese as no rugby team should really be expected to play two games inside five days and intensity levels are bound to drop.

There is now a considerable degree of pressure and anticipation. An expectancy they may not have ever felt outside their home country. A match that may well have been ignored by the average viewer is a primetime event. And their hoards of new followers will be hoping fortune favours the Brave Blossoms once again.

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