So… where to begin. It would be easy to fall into the trap of exaggeration and overreaction on a weekend like this.
We all know that was a poor game and a terrible result. But there’s nothing to be gained from just taking the easy route out and tearing into the players for the abject performance…or is there?
What in the name of Campese was that?!
Australian rugby hasn’t exactly been flying high over the past few years, so surely we’ve all become accustomed to poor performances. But there was something about the way the Wallabies lost on Saturday at home that was a new low.
It wasn’t a frustrating but understandable loss to the All Blacks. It wasn’t a valiant effort against the Irish that fell at the final hurdle. It was 80 minutes of error, ill-discipline, lack of execution and at times embarrassing play from some incredibly well-paid professionals.
Yes, there were some good performances in there – Dane Haylett-Petty played well again at fullback and Israel Folau was impressive at times. David Pocock was better than most without being his usual awesome. But the rest of them were average at best.
What’s more alarming, though, is that it wasn’t just the players who struggled against the Pumas – the Wallabies coaching staff seemed to be missing in action. Bizarre substitutions and tactics that just didn’t make sense.
Which leads us on to our next point…
Where does the fault lie?
There was plenty of blame to go around but who is truly at fault here? Do we believe that these players are delivering on their potential?
Are they truly playing as well as they are capable of? Because if they are then we need to adjust our sniper scope to other targets. But based upon Saturday night’s performance, it does feel as though they are not delivering in line with their capabilities.
Dropped balls, players running into each other, failed line outs, missed tackles – no player is coached to do these things. Too many of these players are just not good enough to win at the upper levels of international rugby consistently.
But that doesn’t mean the coaches are let off the hook. What on earth was the thinking behind substituting Matt Toomua and bringing on Bernard Foley? Firstly Toomua had been given hardly any opportunity to do anything all night and then he’s hooked.
Secondly, Kurtley Beale had shown that he was not having a good night (to put it mildly) and yet he was the one who was left out on the field.
So basically everyone needs to stand up and take their fair share of the blame.
How long is long enough?
Given that everyone from players to coaches can be painted with the blame brush, it does raise the question – how long does Michael Cheika get to deliver the results Australia expect? He’s had the skills coach he wanted in place for a couple of years now and this season has seen the Super Rugby franchises collaborating with each other and the Wallabies to ensure players are fit and being developed in the way that supports the Wallabies’ cause.
There’s always talk that it’s tough for the Wallabies as they have to play the best side in the world three times every year and that would damage any teams’ averages. But consider that since November 2015, the Wallabies have also lost to the English several times, to Ireland several times, to the Scots twice, they’ve failed to beat the South Africans at home and now they’ve lost at home to the Argentinians.
The All Blacks are not Australia’s bogey team or their biggest hurdle – they are just one of many who now fancy their chances when they step on the field with the men in gold.
Yes, a World Cup is a year away but I seem to remember that a new coach took over the Wallabies a year out from the last World Cup and that tournament went pretty damn well.
As deep as a puddle…in a dessert…on a hot, summer’s day
It’s been a long-running topic of discussion, but one of the biggest problems the Wallabies have is their total lack of depth. The first choice team isn’t exactly setting the world alight and hasn’t been for a number of years, and the step down to the next level of players is worryingly vast.
While it’s often Foley and the fly-half position that get attention when the discussion turns to a lack of depth, there was another example tonight where Ned Hannigan was back in the side. He’s just not up to international rugby and while he’ll try his hardest for you, at this level that’s just not enough.
The Australian rugby system has got to develop more players at these top levels if the Wallabies are going to challenge the world’s best. It should have been doing this for the past few years but the issue has never been more obvious. Arguably it’s too late for Japan 2019, so the focus for this growth of depth must turn to 2023.
What makes the game against the Pumas most frustrating is that the Wallabies should have won it. They had the opportunities but just couldn’t bring that clinical level of execution to bear when it mattered. There were a couple of examples where this game awareness in the moment was missing and it cost them dearly.
One was in the second half where the Aussies had roughly a five-on-two overlap. Foley had called a set move and rather than someone overriding that call or Foley himself having the awareness to see the huge advantage available, they went ahead with the move.
That might have been fine but in trying to execute that play, Foley and Haylett-Petty ran into each other and knocked the ball on.
The most obvious example of poor awareness was in the dying seconds. Folau – who to be fair to him had had a pretty good game and had carved up the Pumas defence a couple of times – could have won the game for the Wallabies by just giving one simple pass.
He had Foley outside him and Folau had already attracted all 3 remaining defenders. But instead of giving that pass he tried to cut back inside and go himself. A great hit from Tomas Lavanini sent the ball flying and the game was over.
Top-level rugby can be a tight game where individual moments matter and with the Aussies losing those moments time and time again the future looks bleak.
More sad than the performance on the pitch was what happened after between Lukhan Tui and a member of the crowd. At the time of writing, we don’t know the full details but the story seems to be that a frustrated fan was hurling abuse at the Wallabies as they left the pitch and that Tui’s sister might also have been pushed (not sure whether it was an accident or not).
Whatever the situation, and whatever the performance on the pitch, the players don’t deserve to be abused like that as they walk from the field where they have quite literally often bled trying their best to win for their country. They might have played badly, they might have not been good enough but they don’t deserve to have someone screaming insults at them.
Rugby Australia do need to think carefully here though. This could have been one incident where a fan had too many beers and behaved terribly. But there is a growing frustration amongst rugby fans across the country at the way the game is being managed and the way the top players are performing.
Improvements must be made at every level.