The future is bright for Australian rugby despite the impending disaster of being knocked out in the World Cup pool stages for the first time, lineout coach Dan Palmer said on Monday.
Australia kept alive their faint hopes of reaching the quarter-finals with an entertaining, if unconvincing, 34-14 victory over spirited Portugal on Sunday.
With Fiji failing to get an attacking bonus point in their 17-12 victory over Georgia the day before, Australia knew a bonus point victory would keep them in the competition.
But Fiji only need a single bonus point this weekend in their final Pool C match against Portugal to book their spot in the knock-out stages alongside already qualified Wales.
And even though Australia will likely head home with their worst ever World Cup performance and their tails between their legs, Palmer feels the team is on the right curve to succeed in four years time when hosting the 2027 tournament.
“They’re certainly thinking ahead. It’s a young group who, if we can keep the core of this group together, can be a really strong Wallabies team,” said Palmer.
“We’re all obviously disappointed with how the first few weeks here have gone.”
But, he insisted, there remained some hope and the team would be taking three days off before starting to prepare for a potential quarter-final against Pool D winners England.
“They’re still focused on the task at hand. We’re not out of this competition yet,” said Palmer.
‘We need to learn to fight’
Speaking after Sunday’s match in Saint Etienne, where Australia scored four tries through their forwards before wing Marika Koroibete added some gloss late on, head coach Eddie Jones said the team had shown signs of improvement throughout this tournament.
Having laboured to an opening 35-15 victory over Georgia, Australia then lost to Fiji for the first time in 69 years and suffered a record loss to Wales, before ending on a high against Portugal.
“All of the young guys are progressing. When you think most of them have played under 10 tests, this has been a real pivotal tournament for those guys,” said Jones.
“They will take away some bad memories and take away some good memories. We don’t know if we will have the chance to make more memories.
“But they will have collected some important experiences, some important knowledge and the chance to learn and get better in the future.”
For loosehead prop Angus Bell, who scored his first Wallabies try against Portugal, one element that needs to improve is how hard the team fights on the pitch.
Jones had criticised his players after the Wales loss for failing to “stick at it” when their attacking plays were not coming off.
“It’s not because they don’t care, their effort just drops off a little bit,” Jones had said after that chastening 40-6 thrashing.
Bell acknowledged that the team needs to learn how to dig deep systematically if they are to succeed in the future.
“We’ve got to turn into a team that fights. There have been moments this year where we haven’t,” said the 22-year-old, who added the team had “really fought” against Portugal.
“We lost a man (to the sin-bin), we had everything thrown at us and we came away with a result, which was getting the ball back and exiting our 22.
“We are very proud of that. We fought really hard for about 15 minutes there (at a numerical disadvantage). We are building and we will get better.”
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