When Michael Cheika took over the Wallabies in 2014 he was keen to emphasise that he wanted to give Australia a team to be proud of.
As quickly as the Wallabies charged into the World Cup final the following year at Twickenham, Cheika said pride wasn’t enough – and of course, he wanted to knock over the All Blacks and take home ‘Bill’.
The Wallabies were consistently on the back foot in the decider and were soundly beaten 34-17 by a classy and dominant Kiwi side, who many labelled the most complete team in the game’s long history.
Australia’s tournament included an enormous defensive effort against Wales in their pool clash, memorable for a seven-minute stint when the Wallabies had only 13 on the field.
They were white-hot against England, also at Twickenham, in a comprehensive victory that seemed impossible given the turmoil around Ewen McKenzie’s exit as Wallabies coach less than a year earlier.
Australia were sloppy against Scotland in the quarter-final but found a way – albeit with a bit of fortune – to sneak a win with a last-minute penalty goal from Bernard Foley.
The semi-final triumph over Argentina was mostly a grind but for Drew Mitchell’s slashing run that led to Adam Ashley-Cooper’s match-sealing try.
Were Wallabies fans proud even after a comprehensive loss in the final? There’s little doubt that the vast majority were, especially as most weren’t overflowing with optimism leading into the tournament.
The problem with the ambition of chasing popularity through pride is that it’s severely limiting if you don’t get enough wins along the way.
Wallabies fans have found a way to deal with the constant Bledisloe Cup failures and beating the Springboks in South Africa, England in London and Ireland in Dublin are always arduous assignments.
But big blowouts to the All Blacks won’t elicit pride from Wallabies fans.
A home series whitewash to England doesn’t either, or a home Test loss to Scotland and even a series defeat to the Irish – despite their number two world ranking – is also hard to cop when on Aussie soil.
If Cheika’s stocks were sliding, they were plummeting after last month’s loss to Argentina on the Gold Coast – the Wallabies’ first defeat to the Pumas at home in 35 years.
So now pride from Wallabies fans will only come with victory in Salta this weekend. There’s no allowance now for a gutsy defeat all within the context of building towards next year’s World Cup.
No Wallabies fan wants to be served more platitudes about positive signs but a lack of execution; building pressure but failing to finish off; creating opportunities but not making it count.
Sometimes it seems Cheika is aiming to bring about pride by being entertaining, that an expansive game plan is both the bolted-on Australian way and even in defeat, the fans will appreciate the ambition.
But what’s wrong with winning ugly every now and again? Why not roll through phase play by keeping it close, sharp and physical?
As bad as the lineout has been, why not kick for the corners and try to build some confidence through field position?
Why not slow it down in attack if it means lining Israel Folau and Dane Haylett-Petty up on some of Argentina’s props and they can use their footwork and acceleration to break the line?
Going side to side didn’t work against the Boks last week. It seemed like an admission that the Wallabies pack couldn’t go toe to toe with Malcolm Marx, Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert, Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit.
The number of lead runners and long wide passes seemed way over the top, especially given it usually failed to create space. Last year’s Bledisloe win was one Wallabies fans could be proud of, and it was memorable for their physicality.
Cheika needs a win and Wallabies fans won’t care how it’s done. Make it no frills. Don’t bother with the fancy. Only with victory in Salta will pride have a chance to flourish.