Wallabies' true test arrives as World Cup goes up a level

Japan train in a flooded stadium (1:10)

Japan train in typhoon flooded stadium, crossing a knee-deep pool to access the field ahead of their game against Scotland. (1:10)

TOKYO -- If the Wallabies have been playing us all for fools over the last four years, then the time has come to "take it up a level" as they seek to extend their World Cup stay beyond the point most believe their collective ability extends.

After four years of inconsistency, highlighted by poor discipline and a constant flow of yellow cards, if the Wallabies are any chance of beating England in Saturday's quarterfinal, and then so too the All Blacks, just to earn a shot a fifth Rugby World Cup final, then they will have to produce their very best rugby. Anything short will have Australia on a Qantas flight home quicker than you can say sayonara.

Having dealt with the change in travel plans after their victory over Georgia due to Typhoon Hagibis - a ferocious storm that struck Japan over the weekend and claimed the lives of at least 35 people, with many more missing - the Wallabies have set up camp in Odawara, before they fly south to Oita on Wednesday.

After having Sunday off, the Wallabies will set about preparing for England from Monday. The challenge they face against Eddie Jones' side is obvious: Australia haven't beaten England since the last World Cup and have been outplayed on each occasion.

The first three of those matches came Down Under during England's 2016 tour of Australia, just a few months after Jones had assumed the role and had enjoyed immediate success in the form of a Six Nations Grand Slam. The Wallabies travelled to Twickenham later that year and then again in 2017 and 2018, losing all three matches by an average margin of 19.6 points. It is an ominous run of defeats to arrest.

But they find themselves in a similar position to four years ago when England had dominated their recent head-to-head history and were expected to bounce back from a loss to Wales, therefore ensuring they wouldn't become the first host nation not to advance from the pool stage at the Rugby World Cup.

The Wallabies came out and won that match 33-13 in what remains one of their best performances of the Cheika era. But they have shown only fleeting examples of that overwhelming competence since, while only skipper Michael Hooper, David Pocock and prop Scott Sio will likely remain from the 2015 run-on side that starts this Saturday.

Three weeks on from his high tackle citing against Fiji and subsequent three-week suspension, Wallabies winger Reece Hodge is back in the frame for selection, but now faces added competition from Jordan Petaia.

Cheika has long spoken about the competition within this Wallabies squad at this World Cup, particularly in the halves, back-row and back-three, a situation he feels is bringing the best out of his playing group and one Hodge believes has helped bind the squad together.

"I think obviously being able to call on Swoop [Adam Ashley-Cooper] with his experience has been massive for Jordie," Hodge said when asked about Petaia, a player who won't carry the scars of recent defeats by England. "And, I guess, little bits of myself, Dane and Kurtley have been able to add to him along the way, so he's appreciative of us being tight-knit as a back-three group.

"But in saying that, he's an amazing player himself and the three or four of us can learn a fair bit from him as well. So yeah it's been an enjoyable three or four weeks being able to share things on and off the field as the back-three group.

"I won't share too much of what I've been working on; just trying to touch up little bits of my game, both in attack and defence, to the point where I'm in the best possible shape for coming into this week and to be available for selection. So I'll enjoy the challenge and time to go up another level this week."

The entire Wallabies squad must go up a level. So far at this tournament they have shown only brief glimpses of what they're capable of, fleeting spells of confident attacking rugby that saw them surge home in the second halves against both Fiji and Wales.

Those momentary periods when the Michael Cheika blueprint seems to flourish have been overshadowed by mistake-riddled efforts like their win over Georgia, and the slow starts they made in each of their opening two games.

And that has largely been the story of Cheika's tenure.

The Wallabies have good rugby in them, no doubt. But it has been produced only on the odd occasion, in the Bledisloe wins of 2017 and then again earlier this year, or in the rousing second-half comeback victory over the Pumas in Salta in 2018; a rally that followed a fearsome halftime dressing down from their under-fire coach.

Or perhaps it has all been some elaborate ruse to lull their World Cup rivals into a false sense of security? Unlikely.

No. This is the time when the Wallabies will either live up to all the foibles we have come to expect from them and exit the World Cup with barely a whimper, or they will instead rise to a level that is generally regarded to be beyond them, defeat England, and make anyone but the most faithful Wallabies supporter, those among the 40,000 who travelled to Japan to watch them, eat their words.

For their part, England have only had two seemingly comfortable games against Tonga and the United States, as well as a victory over Argentina that was made easier by a red-card, so there may be some questions over their preparedness for a match of this magnitude.

But they will still head into this contest buoyed by the knowledge of their recent record against Australia and the comprehensiveness of its nature.

The challenge is all Australia's. It is finding that "level" they know they have within them, but one they have only been able to reach on an all too infrequent occasion.

This article is powered by Ford Ranger, the vehicle that works smarter and plays harder than the competition.