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After more than 30 years with The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media in Australia, Greg Growden now writes exclusively online for ESPNscrum. Never afraid to step on toes, you can expect plenty of compelling insight from one of Australia's most renowned rugby writers.

The Growden Report
Wallabies fans have real reasons to believe
Greg Growden
June 23, 2014
Australia 39-13 France (Australia only)

As the ruggabuggas went searching for their old Paddington drinking haunts after enjoying a traditional Saturday afternoon Test feast, the most favoured word to describe the Wallabies was "encouraging".

Encouraging that the Wallabies had after a decade of inconsistency remembered how to string Test victories together. Encouraging that they now know how to put away an opponent. Encouraging that two times out of three against France they had produced a standard of football worth watching, and worth believing in.

The feeling also was that there is at least a faint hope this year's Bledisloe Cup series won't follow the usual excruciating drawn-out Black Death massacre routine; there could even be some joy even though it is nowhere near the moment to start provoking all those irritating All Blacks chest-beaters at your workplace with "We're out to get you" taunts.

What has occurred over the period in which the Wallabies have achieved seven successive Test victories is that Ewen McKenzie has been able to mould a genuinely threatening international line-up. The scrum is far from the best in the world, but it is holding up better than a year or so ago. The back-row is now effective, with Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy and Wycliff Palu understanding each other's role and combining effectively as a unit. And in Will Skelton, they may at last have found a forward whom opponents will genuinely fear. It's not just Skelton's enormous bulk that is a threat. His handling skills are excellent. And out wide, they have the necessary game changer: Israel Folau. As crucially, the back-up has improved. The bench at last has some spirit and thrust, rather than just being a collection of training tackle bags.

Self-belief is crucial, and that comes from repeated triumphs.

The Wallabies had much to celebrate against France, but New Zealand will be a different Test © Getty Images

But we must remember that the Wallabies claimed wins over genuine world rugby powers - and not just teams from the north - when they last enjoyed such a long streak of victories (10 in 1999 and 2000). During those glory days, South Africa were beaten twice and New Zealand once; only when the Wallabies start doing that again can this line-up can start big-noting itself.

The real challenge is about to occur. The All Blacks, chasing a world record-winning sequence, are next.

The All Blacks played England immediately after the Wallabies' Sydney triumph; they coughed and spluttered through this invigorating three-Test series, but the manner in which they finished off the tourists in Hamilton reminded all exactly where they remain markedly ahead of the Wallabies.

New Zealand's Aaron Smith offers a bigger threat than does Nic White © Getty Images

The All Blacks' series success against England was a bigger achievement than the Wallabies' sweep of France - because their opponents were of a considerably higher standard. England were at least a 10-point better team than France. England were committed, France were tired. England were a constant threat over the three Tests while France threatening only for about 10 minutes of the second international.

New Zealand 36-13 England (Australia only)

Where the All Blacks really started to get it together by the end of the series was their drive near the scrum base, and midfield effectiveness. The pace of their game, and their ability to react well under pressure, improved the longer the series went.

The All Blacks have their most distinctive edge over the Wallabies at No 9-10.

The Wallabies are developing a halves combination in Nic White and Bernard Foley. Again "encouraging" is the best word to describe their first three outings. They are starting to get it together, but there are nagging doubts - especially when White gets obsessed with Brumbies-mantra box kicks or when Foley tries to do too much and with it mistakes occur. Foley's defence also remains under question.

Far more assured is the mighty All Blacks' No.9, Aaron Smith, while outside him New Zealand have the luxury of two exceptional No 10s - Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett. How lucky the All Blacks are to have Barrett sitting on the bench; in many other international teams, his would be first name picked.

Each of them is a master of their domain, and the Australian playmakers are not yet in that category. So the performance of White and Foley against this trifecta of class will be crucial in determining whether this year's promise can turn into something more potent.

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