From complete disarray a year ago to World Cup finalists, the transformation of the Australian rugby team has been as impressive as it has been rapid.Regardless of whether the Wallabies beat their arch enemies New Zealand in next weekend's decider, Australia's first appearance in the final for 12 years is already a major coup.
Wallabies' road to World Cup final
- Australia 28-13 Fiji
- Australia 65-3 Uruguay
- Australia 33-13 England
- Australia 15-6 Wales
- Australia 35-34 Scotland
- Australia 29-15 Argentina
Just a little over 12 months ago, few people would have given the Australians any real hope of winning the World Cup after a series of disappointing results on the pitch and controversy off it.
The Wallabies won just two of their six matches in the southern hemisphere's Rugby Championship in 2014 and their coach Ewen McKenzie quit after a short but tumultuous period in charge.
Michael Cheika was hastily appointed as the new coach just days before the team's end of season tour to Europe, which was supposed to offer a guide to the Wallabies' prospects at the World Cup.
The early signs were not good as the Wallabies lost successive matches to France, Ireland and England, leaving Cheika with a monumental job to turn things around.
Faced with the toughest pool in the history of the World Cup, which included host England and Wales, Cheika was in a race against time, so had to make drastic decisions.
He hired Argentine great Mario Ledesma to try to fix Australia's wonky scrum and Steve Larkham, a World Cup winner for the Wallabies in 1999, to reinvigorate the backline.
Cheika was also the driving force behind Australia's decision to allow players based abroad to represent the Wallabies.
He also gambled successfully by moving David Pocock from openside flanker to number eight so he could get him and Michael Hooper, both specialist number sevens, in the same side.
Wallabies' natural instincts unleashed
The changes paid off immediately. Australia's scrum started to hold its own and the backs began to play more expansively, in line with Australia's natural instincts.
"I'm not taking credit for any of that sort of stuff, it's about players just wanting to play," Cheika told reporters after the 29-15 victory over Argentina in the World Cup semi-final on Sunday.
I don't know if we're turned around or anything, I just think guys are playing for each other, they want to play for Australia and they are committed when they run on the field.Michael Cheika
"I don't know if we're turned around or anything, I just think guys are playing for each other, they want to play for Australia and they are committed when they run on the field.
"It hasn't always been perfect but the commitment's there and in rugby, that's the basis."
The Wallabies won the abbreviated Rugby Championship but their lack of consistency has shown they are still something of a work in process, brilliant one week, less so next time.
After winning the Rugby Championship, they were thrashed by New Zealand in their next game. Similarly at the World Cup, they attacked superbly to beat England and defended magnificently against Wales to top their group.
But they almost came unstuck in the quarter-final against Scotland, needing a last-minute penalty to stay alive in the competition, before rebounding to score four unanswered tries against Argentina.
"One of the big things that we just want to bring is honesty," Cheika said.
"Let's try our best, do everything we can, be honest with each other, and let that be seen by the way we play the game, not talk about doing certain things and trying to market that or promote it.
"It's not always going to get you a result, but be honest, work hard, do the basics, earn the respect of people and people will enjoy the game more."