Australia are following the same path that led them to success at Rugby World Cup 1999, an analysis of average starting team ages shows.
In the four years prior to Australia's win in the first tournament of the professional era, the average age of their starting test side in the Tri Nations increased from 26 years and 66 days in 1996 to 27 years and 99 days in 1999.
The average age of the RWC 1999-winning side in the final was 27 years and 321 days, just 47 days fewer than the average of the four winning sides in the professional era.
Analysing Wallaby teams in the Rugby Championship between 2012 and 2015 shows that the average age of the squad starts to increase about two years before the Rugby World Cup.
Compared with the RWC 1999 winners, the current Australia team started with a lower average age two years before and accelerated to a higher one more quickly. The recalls of older players, such as Dean Mumm and Matt Giteau, and the debut of Scott Fardy at 29 help to explain this change.
Projecting Australia’s likely selection in the RWC 2015 final, if they get there, shows that their average age on 31 October 2015 would be 28 years and 288 days, exactly the same as England’s World Cup-winning team on 22 November 2003. Indeed, the 2015 Australia side actually follows the 2003 England team’s progress more closely than their own 1999 side.
The pattern of an increasing average age was repeated by England in 2003 and South Africa in 2007, with only 2011 winners New Zealand bucking the trend, as their Rugby World Cup final team was six months per man younger than their Tri Nations team that year.
Of the top seven teams in the latest World Rugby rankings, Australia’s squad age progression most closely matches the four professional era victors. The only other team with a similar trajectory is New Zealand, but the average age of their 2015 starting team is 29 years and 151 days, almost one-and-a-half years older than the combined average of the last four Rugby World Cup winners.
Australia's RWC 1999 captain John Eales said his team were confident going into the tournament as they had beaten all their top competitors and matured in the build-up.
"We'd been through some tough times, so we knew what that was like," he said about handling the pressure of rugby's biggest occasion.
"We knew it was no given that we would win, but we were quietly confident that if we stuck to what we knew, we'd play well, then we could win the tournament."
Australia's RWC 2015 team have followed a similar build-up pattern, but will they achieve a similar result?