The Wallabies rode a roller-coaster through 2021.
Another year, another failure for Australia at the Under 20 Junior World Championship. A convincing win against Scotland was followed by two totally inept performances against Argentina and France respectively.
The question is, what is our problem at under-20 level?
Is it the players, the coaches or Bad luck?
Perhaps it is a combination of all three.
It would seem ludicrous to attribute Australia’s poor results to bad luck.
For too long now we have been sending star-studded teams to this tournament, each with their sprinkling of Super Rugby players.
Often they even contain the odd player considered good enough for the Wallabies senior squad (Liam Gill being the most recent case).
Any squads of the talent we have been sending should overcome any bad luck sooner or later.
Each year we send teams with strong Super Rugby-quality players lining up in the most important positions on the field (positions like 10, nine and seven).
These squads often come up against others with little or no provincial level experience.
Yet we still we fail.
Australia may have come close on the final competition standings, but in terms of playing performance we have been way off.
It is very difficult to argue then that it is the players’ fault.
It must be the coaches.
We have had stability in the coaching set-up for this side, at least in terms of the head coach, for a number of years with David Nucifora at the helm.
Despite this stability, which sees players remain in the under-20 set-up for a few years as new players are ushered in, no success has been achieved.
It is very hard to really say that progress has been made, even in a rather transient tournament like the JWC.
It seems to me that often from my viewing, we have an under-20 side trying to play senior-type rugby.
THis is something that other teams don’t seem to do.
Rugby at under-20 level is not the same as open-age rugby.
It is more open, and quite often more adventurous quite often, with the players learning the ropes of what can and can’t be done.
Our side conversely seems much more structured than the others and perhaps, regardless of its impact later on, is not effective at under-20 level.
Given the Super Rugby talent we have brought into this tournament over the last few years, perhaps those influential players know a certain way to play and that is it.
The job of the coach is to say ‘this is how I want you to play and playing this way will bring us success’.
Quite possibly, this is where the problem lies.
Also, there appears to be a real lack of gelling between the players.
This often appears to exacerbate itself at the set-piece, a place where Australian rugby has enough problems already.
That is also the responsibility of the coach.
Arguably Australia’s poor performances are due to a combination of factors.
But looking at not only the final results but the way we play, it seems a lot of this could be resolved by more effective coaching of the players.