Rugby Championship state of play 2019: Australia
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By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 16/07/19 3:30pm
Australia begin their 2019 Rugby Championship campaign by travelling to face South Africa in Johannesburg on July 20, live on Sky Sports Action.
The Wallabies still boast some of the best players in the world but are coming off the back of a very poor 2018.
From July 20, we will see what they are made of as they take on the Boks away, before hosting defending champions New Zealand and Argentina in a reduced format of the Rugby Championship ahead of Rugby World Cup 2019.
After that, they will travel to play New Zealand in Bledisloe II before all attentions turn to Japan.
Below, we take a look at the state of play in Australia...
A 2018 hangover or revival?
Australia's 2018 campaign was their worst since Michael Cheika took over in October 2014, as they won just four from 13 Tests.
The year started with a disappointing 2-1 home series defeat to Ireland - the first time the Irish had ever won a three-Test series in the southern hemisphere.
Rugby Championship defeats home and away to New Zealand followed, before a tight home win over South Africa was followed by a home defeat to Argentina.
A loss in South Africa was next, before the Wallabies came back from 24 points behind to win in Argentina and finish the tournament above the Pumas.
A year filled with so few highs ended with more losses as Australia's autumn tour saw them lose in Wales and England - sandwiched by a victory in Italy.
Previous full campaigns under Cheika had yielded just two losses and 10 wins in 2015, six victories in 2016 and seven wins in 2017, marking 2018 as their weakest year under the combustible and under-fire Aussie.
Can they turn things around in 2019?
The Folau situation...
It's the story that seemingly just won't go away: Israel Folau vs Rugby Australia.
For almost the entirety of Folau's six-year, 73-cap Wallaby career, the full-back was one of the first names on the teamsheet.
A phenomenal exponent under the high ball, gifted with physical size, balance and pace, and one of the premier finishers in world rugby, it was Folau's anti-gay comments which brought an end to his Test career.
Folau tweeted his objection to same-sex marriage in September 2017 and seven months later, he stated on social media gay people will go to 'hell'.
He also sent out an Instagram message - since deleted - and an accompanying graphic relating to 'God's Plan'. One user responded with the question: 'What was God's plan for gay people?', to which Folau replied: 'HELL...unless they repent of their sins and turn to God.'
Then in April this year, Folau posted on Instagram a picture reading "hell awaits" for "drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolators".
After widespread condemnation, Rugby Australia and chief executive Raelene Castle held a much-anticipated news conference on May 17 to confirm the termination of Folau's $4m contract.
Since then, the 30-year-old has appealed the termination in vain, held sermons promoting homophobic sentiment, attempted to raise funds via GoFundMe and stated an intention to engage in a legal battle with Rugby Australia.
It's a cloud hanging over the union and one which threatens to overshadow events on the pitch.
Perhaps arguably a far bigger loss to this Wallaby side than Folau, would be the injury-enforced absence of flanker David Pocock.
The 31-year-old forward is one of the best players in the world, yet he has not played since March 8 due to a calf injury.
Pocock had written off the rest of the Super Rugby season, stating an intention to concentrate on returning to fitness for the World Cup in September, but news has since broken that he is definitely out of contention for Australia's Rugby Championship opener against the Boks.
He will have to be monitored on a week-by-week basis thereafter, but the longer such an injury drags on, the louder doubts and fears over his World Cup participation will grow.
Pocock's influence on the Australian team when he plays is monumental, with their win percentage sharply reduced whenever he is not playing.
Their hopes of success, both in the Rugby Championship and Rugby World Cup, could rest heavily on the back-row's health.
A healthy RWC record...
One thing firmly in Australia's favour as we venture towards the World Cup, is their record at rugby's showpiece event - they almost always deliver on the biggest stage.
Indeed, in eight editions of the competition to date, the Wallabies have made the semi-finals in six, going on to contest the final four times - winning the trophy in 1991 and 1999.
No matter their form in the lead-up, they almost always seem to be in the mix come crunch time.
Australia's 34-man 2019 Rugby Championship squad
Forwards (19): Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Jack Dempsey, Folau Fainga'a, Michael Hooper (c), Luke Jones, Sekope Kepu, Tolu Latu, Isi Naisarani (uncapped), Tom Robertson, Izack Rodda, Rob Simmons, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Jordan Uelese, Rob Valetini (uncapped), Liam Wright (uncapped).
Backs (15): Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tom Banks, Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Lealiifano, Jack Maddocks, Joe Powell, Matt Toomua, Nic White.