Many angry words have already been written about the Wallabies’ 24-19 loss to Scotland, and many more may well follow again today.
And in fairness to all measured critiquers and frustrated desk-thumpers alike, it was the kind of annoyingly sub-standard display that deserves an angry reaction.
If only we could guarantee those angry words are read by those who need to see them…
But what can the Wallabies do to move on from ‘The Sydney Debacle’?
Well, if they’re honest with themselves as players and coaches, they’ll use this game to their advantage.
A full match replay should be required viewing this week, as the Wallabies prepare for Italy in Brisbane, and repeat viewings should be part of the planning for The Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup preps, too.
If the Wallabies ever want to know what might happen if they play within themselves, or assume that someone else will get to that ruck, there is eighty minutes of pretty solid evidence played out in front of a decent afternoon rugby crowd who expected much, much better.
What the Wallabies will see on the replay is a team who were way too passive at the breakdown, and particularly when in possession. They were frighteningly inaccurate. Their skill execution let them down on countless occasions. They made silly decisions; they remembered for ten minutes they had a longer kicker on the field, and then forgot about that same kicker late in the game, forcing them to launch futile lineout drives from way too far out.
They’ll see a team who weren’t desperate enough; neither in defence, nor when needing to clean up a mistake. They played way too much east-west rugby, and not nearly enough north-south.
And what they will see on the screen in front of them is what will happen if they even think about underestimating a team between now and Christmas.
None if this takes anything away from the Scots, who were superb across the park. While the Wallabies bumbled and fumbled, Scotland bashed, barged, pilfered, stole, retaliated, sliced, diced, and julienned. And won.
And what’s more, they did exactly what anyone who watched them completely dominate Italy in Singapore the week before expected they would do. They were hard over the ball, physical in defence and at the breakdown, solid at set piece, and ruthless at turnover.
The Australian camp would – should – have known what was coming.
Wandering among the Wallabies post-match, I was confronted by the ashen faces of gold-clad players who knew what was coming their way. Nothing they could say between then and kick-off next Saturday was going to change any minds; they’d underperformed, terribly so, and they knew it. Honesty had to be the best policy.
“There were times when we just didn’t control our pace, and also, they made the most of the opportunities when they countered,” an almost shell-shocked Tatafu Polota-Nau attempted to explain to me on ABC Grandstand.
“We need to make sure we work hard on our urgency, but also on our shape as well.”
The required improvements were obvious, and the players themselves were already thinking ahead to what surely now has to be a gruelling week of preparations in Brisbane.
“It just comes down to who wants it more,” Polota-Nau said. “Well done to Scotland for pouncing on the opportunities when they presented, but we’ve just got to be harder on ourselves next week to prepare for Italy.”
Scott Higginbotham was similarly circumspect. For a guy who has openly said any Tests he plays from now on is a bonus, he’d be well aware that his spot is far from secure this weekend.
“We’ll have to look at the breakdown; I think that’s going to be important for us, definitely our attacking breakdown,” the No.8 admitted.
“We need that speed over the ball, and that’s what we’ll need to work on.”
Michael Cheika has suggested that changes for Italy this week are likely; “I’d say there’d be a few,” was how he answered the question post-match on Saturday evening. How many of those changes will be above and beyond what was probably already planned to face the 15th-ranked team in the world, we’ll never know.
And really, changes are immaterial after a loss like that. They might have an effect, they might make no difference whatsoever. I’d be just as inclined to send the same XV out in Brisbane and have them prove the Sydney loss was ‘just an off day’.
In all reality, and I say this with all respect due to them, but the Wallabies should be beat Italy handsomely this weekend. If they don’t, it just underlines the whole theme of this column.
The Scotland loss must be the line in the sand for 2017. A full review of preparations and game plans for The Rugby Championship and the Bledisloe must happen now. The Wallabies have to be smarter, clearer, cleaner in everything they do for the rest of the international season.
Losses may still result, but they cannot be as meek and as dispiriting as what Wallabies fans had to endure last Saturday.