Wallabies remain maddeningly inconsistent throughout 2016

Elisha Pearce Columnist

By , Elisha Pearce is a Roar Expert

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    The 2016 season finished like it started for the Wallabies. With a loss to England.

    On June 11 the Wallabies got off to a blinder against England. Quick passes. Players in position. Winning their rucks. Using the width of the field.

    Then everything fell apart, and the England went on to win that match 39-28.

    Six months and seven days later, the Wallabies got off to a blinder against England. They retained possession. Recycled the ball quickly. Got into formidable attacking patterns. Changed the point of attack. Got all their strike players involved.

    Then England pulled the handbrake, and slowly suffocated Australia, before running away 37-21 winners.

    There is a small amount of improvement between those two scenarios. In the first match at Suncorp Stadium the implosion was more pronounced. At Twickenham it was a slow burn and fade.

    The Wallabies started brightly. After a few minutes I wrote “great continuity to start. Can they keep up, or is this just momentary, like so many other games this year?”

    The answer was yes, it was only fleeting and the fast and cohesive start wasn’t matched with enough steely determination to sustain it.

    If one were to look at the statistics, having not seen the game, the 16-point margin might seem a little unfair to the Wallabies. Possession, territory, run metres, tackles, scrum and line out wins – all are very even.

    But the Wallabies just disappeared for large parts of the second half. Disappeared. Whole passages of the game took place without a single player stamping their name on proceedings or the team producing any rigid and competitive structure.

    The same problem has plagued them all year – it is a clear pattern.

    We know the Wallabies have skillful players. We know they have attacking brilliance. We know there is defensive starch is there. It’s all been on display this year, but it hasn’t lasted.

    The good sides have simply matched and outlasted them, on every occasion.

    It took the Irish almost 80 minutes to squash the resistance.

    England ground down the flair after 20 or 30 minutes most times this year.

    And New Zealand crushed their spirit in five or 10 minutes on some occasions.

    The Wallabies season was defined by another pattern, between the players’ ears, which hints at the reasons for the on-field patterns – lack of belief.

    I’ve written about it twice before now, but leaving Kafe’s halftime commentary out of any end-of-season would be remiss of me. After the break in the Wallabies match against South Africa in Brisbane, Kafe said the halftime message to the players was not to be surprised if they played well.

    The Wallabies were so full of self-doubt someone had to remind them not to be shocked when they played some good rugby.

    Looking at the results – five losses in a row to start the season – it’s not hard to see the lack of self-belief.

    It’s right there, screaming at you through the inconsistency and disappearances. It’s on the face of a bewildered Israel Folau. It was on the faces of Wallabies forwards pushing people and pulling jerseys instead of letting their game do the talking.

    Israel Folau Australia Wallabies Rugby Union 2016

    When Bernard Foley faced the media as the team arrived back in Australia yesterday he basically admitted on camera that the Wallabies lacked belief.

    “You can’t say the belief’s there because there’s been so many changes, so many new faces, so many guys, you know, playing Test rugby for the first time,” he said.

    There’s enough in there that you could read it to mean the players didn’t trust themselves because they were new, they didn’t trust other players that were new or didn’t believe the team could work because there were so many changes. Or perhaps all three could be true.

    Either way, that’s bad news for a team trying to compete at the highest level.

    The truth is other top teams experienced a lot of turnover this year as well. That’s natural in the first year after a World Cup.

    The All Blacks have whole blocks of new players. The Springboks have a lot of change as well as a new coach, and that has contributed to their struggles. England hasn’t had as many players change over, but they’ve got a new coach and had to come back from humiliation.

    After losing more matches than they won, the Wallabies 2016 season can’t be classified as anything other than a failure.

    The test now is whether the team rebounds from that like England did. It’s unlikely the Springboks will have a second year at such a low level, the Wallabies shouldn’t either.

    Finding new belief in themselves needs to start in Super Rugby. All the Australian teams had dismal seasons in 2016 and that had to contribute to a tentative and brittle team this year – the “find a way to win” pattern of 2015 had been replaced by one of inconsistency.

    And there’s something more to what Foley told the media today: Next year the Wallabies team needs to be a more consistent line-up than this year.

    Some experimentation and combination swapping was essential, and it has unearthed some quality second row stocks, but next year the team needs to settle and find an identity.

    Besides Will Genia – behind whom is an empty cupboard of high class halfbacks – I’d try to stick with Australian based players who have a chance to play with and against each other more often where possible.

    Onwards and upwards in 2017 for the Wallabies. They can’t leave it to the Aussie women’s sevens team to be the only shining light in Australian rugby for another year.

    Elisha Pearce
    Elisha Pearce

    Long-time Roarer Elisha Pearce joined us as a rugby union expert in 2015. He also works for Fairfax Media and has confused more Roarers with his name than anyone in the history of the site.

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