So now it’s up to Ireland.The poverty of the northern hemisphere game was starkly illustrated by the defeat of Wales and England on Saturday.
Australia and New Zealand may be by far the two weakest countries in the southern hemisphere this year but they both had too much nous, cunning and control for their British opponents.
It falls now to Six Nations Grand Slam champions Ireland, who meet Australia in Dublin on Sunday, to try and disprove the theory that the northern hemisphere rugby lands are entirely barren and bereft of inspiration.
It may now be a sterner task, given that Australian spirits had soared by the time the final whistle blew at Twickenham on Saturday. The Wallabies may have been flogged by just about every team they’ve encountered this season, from the Springboks to the Wagga Wagga Boys Under 9s, but they discovered on Saturday they were still good enough to whip the Poms.
England’s early promise evaporated like overnight mist in the autumn morning sun. They continued to win some possession but forgot that you have to ask serious questions of the defence if you want to do anything with it.
This they frequently failed to do, re-cycling possession often through as many as 11 or 12 phases.
But they never got anywhere with it, firstly because they never once stood flat in attack on the gain line and threatened the Australia defence and, secondly, because they lacked the innovation and wit to come up with something different.
Ireland’s task this coming weekend will be harder for England’s failure at Twickenham. Self belief represents essential oxygen to any sports team and the Australians, with six defeats in their last seven games before Saturday’s match, were gasping for it. England generously donated cylinders full of the stuff to them and duly paid the price.
Not that this was a vintage Australia performance. This is a team that has been forced to dig deep from the well of self belief this year in various critical moments. They cannot currently live with the South Africans or New Zealanders and have a long way to go to become once more invincible.
So what can Ireland expect ? Their fringe defence around rucks and mauls will need to be super tight given the sniping potential of Wallaby scrum half Will Genia. When England dozed off defensively, he exploited the chance ruthlessly and he keeps a defence honest.
The Australians like to bring their big forwards onto the ball with momentum and Ireland’s pack must prepare accordingly. But their line-out throwing remains a lottery and Ireland must seek to attack the Wallaby throw and attempt to disrupt.
Quade Cooper, the new midfielder, cuts some clever angles in attack and his unpredictability makes him dangerous. But the Irish midfield will surely lick its collective lips at the prospect of examining Cooper’s defensive attributes. Denied space and time, he looks altogether less convincing.
Meanwhile, Adam Ashley-Cooper’s line breaking potential from full-back is obvious and both wings are looking hungry for work.
Even so, you have to believe Ireland can prevail. England did their best to make the Wallabies suddenly look a great team and, with their spirits restored, Robbie Deans’ team gave a second half performance which was probably their best 40 minutes of the year.
But these Wallabies are no world beaters. Ireland should not be fearful.