The Wallabies believe they are on the right track after building depth in 2016, despite slumping to nine losses in a season where they thought they would close the gap on world champions New Zealand and win back the Bledisloe Cup.
Michael Cheika’s side returned from their end-of-season tour of Europe early on Tuesday, having beaten Wales, narrowly pipped Scotland and France then lost their final two games to Ireland and England.
Those losses book-ended a poor return for the team, having been swept in a home series by England, lost all three matches to New Zealand and also been beaten by one of the poorest South Africa sides in the long history of the Springboks.
Wallabies assistant coach Nathan Grey said the team had been trying to build depth and the new caps introduced to test rugby this year would help get the side back to the level they reached when they made last year’s World Cup final.
“Exposing some younger guys to that next level is something that we did on this trip,” Grey said.
“The more you can expose those players to those step ups in intensity and performance are only going to hold Australian rugby in good stead.”
As well as building depth, Australia showed they could challenge the All Blacks and England when their backline was at its most cohesive, as in the first half against England last Saturday.
They also pushed the All Blacks in their third test in Auckland in October before a strong second half from the world champions side put the game away.
Flyhalf Bernard Foley echoed Grey’s confidence but also acknowledged that a lack of consistency at crucial times had hurt the Wallabies throughout the year.
“We’ve seen it this year in spurts and if we can play those games consistently every week, I’m sure this team has the ability to compete with those sides and get back to where we want to be,” he said.
The 27-year-old said the team, having finished 2015 as comfortably the second best team in the world, had entered 2016 with in a confident frame of mind before the reality check of the England series.
“There was a lot of optimism when we first got together this year and realistically we were shut down pretty quickly and so we had to rebuild and face the challenges,” he said.
“I think out of those tough times and that adversity a lot of guys stood up and that’s where I think the optimism and the potential going forward is.
“Those tough times I think have put us in a really good position for future success.”