Wow! Now that was a weekend of rugby to remember. Or perhaps to forget!
After the shock win from Japan over Ireland on Saturday, the clash between the Wallabies and Wales promised to be even more intense and it lived up to expectations.
Unfortunately the Wallabies didn’t realise their potential, and now they face a likely quarter-final match up against the best from Group C.
But, before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s look at the key talking points from this heartbreaking loss.
Creating a siege mentality doesn’t always work
Since Australia’s game against Fiji, Michael Cheika has started to act a little strange.
He’s taken every opportunity to paint himself and the squad as being hard done by and attacked.
He’s spoken about how unfair it was that the Fiji coach asked the citing commissioner to investigate Reece Hodge’s tackle and then said that the powers that be are trying to make out that he, his coaching team and players are not up to speed on the rules.
This siege mentality is a well-loved method for coaches, especially when it comes to the business end of a season or a big tournament.
Des Hasler has done it with great success for Manly Sea Eagles and Cheika even used it back in the 2015 World Cup.
However, it’s a high-risk strategy. If you can’t win but continue to base your camp culture around the idea of us versus them, then very quickly the whole thing can eat itself from poor performance and paranoia.
Cheika has been a good man-manager in the past but, unfortunately, it seems that he’s losing his touch.
What’s more, it’s clear that his coaching skills really aren’t up to it at international level, and as we all know…
There’s a fine line between genius and being ‘that guy who used to coach the Wallabies’
Four years ago Cheika took the Wallabies to the World Cup Final and everyone was impressed. He’d only just taken on the gig and his immediate results were so close to perfect.
However over the next four years the Australians haven’t lived up to that fast start and gradually, but consistently, Cheika’s Wallabies have got worse.
There are plenty of factors at play here and Cheika doesn’t deserve to take the blame for all of it, but against the Welsh he has to take responsibility for one of the biggest mistakes of his reign – starting Will Genia and Bernard Foley.
If it had worked out people would be touting it as a brilliant decision – especially to bring back Foley considering his form hasn’t been great, and he’s been absent from the starting fifteen more and more.
But it didn’t work. Neither had good games and Foley looked well off the pace from the first minute up until his early shower.
What’s more, the back three from Sunday had never played together and the entire back set up had never played together as this unit.
Yes, rotation and depth are important in a squad game, but for one of the most important games of your World Cup you surely would want stability.
Australia should still qualify from the group without a drama but it’s likely that they will go head-to-head against the English in the quarter-final and the English definitely have the upper hand in recent years.
Heading home at that point having lost to both the Welsh and the English would not be a success for Australia and Cheika would likely answer for it with his job.
Set piece was impressive
The loss is hard to take, but there were many impressive performances and one of the best was at the set-piece. The forwards worked hard all day long and their scrummaging, line out and rucking were almost perfect.
In their line out they do have a genuine weapon that scares the opposition and while they didn’t score tries directly from the line out this time, they used it to heap more and more pressure onto the Welsh and scored off the back of that pressure.
Also within the forwards there were some individual good performances. Isi Naisarani had a good game and is looking better and better.
He ran hard and beat defenders setting up others to get in behind the Welsh defence. He ran for the second most metres of any forward in the game and was a threat with ball in hand.
Letting opposition off the hook
If you look at the possession and territory stats you can see how the Wallabies dominated the second half. 76 per cent possession and over 80 per cent territory is incredible at this level and the Wallabies never gave up pounding the Welsh as they tried to chase down the lead.
Unfortunately they let the men in red off the hook far too many times. They conceded 17 turnovers in the match and that’s just criminal – you can’t give the ball back to the opposition that many times and expect to win.
Furthermore, with all that dominance in the second half, the Wallabies really should have scored more points. Yes, the Welsh defence was amazing, but the Australians needed to find a way to keep getting points on the board.
When it comes to the knockout stages, that same number of turnovers will see the Wallabies having to ask themselves some tough questions including ‘chicken or fish?’ for the flight home.
Old guard are on their way out
The Wallabies have both the most caps at the World Cup and one of the largest number of players with a very small number of caps.
When it works this amount of real experience is going to be invaluable. Unfortunately against Wales some of the biggest issues came from the most experienced players.
Will Genia and Bernard Foley were poor today. What’s worse is that they started the match and Australia had to wait until Matt Toomua came on before their backs really looked dangerous.
Toomua looked really good it has to be noted – he ran hard and took the ball much flatter than Foley and that caused the Welsh defence real problems.
He’s pushing hard for a starting position in the next games – it’s just a bit concerning that he didn’t start against Wales.
When Kurtley Beale came on later in the game he failed to make an impact either – well a good one at least. When he’s hitting the line from deep Beale can be one of the most destructive backs in the world.
He’s got great timing and can slice through defences before they even knew he was there. However he has this habit of running across the pitch and today it really cost him and the team.
There was one moment where he had the ball deep in his own half and he set off crabbing across the pitch. That was bad enough but then the pass he gave to the man outside him was forward as well.
The Welsh got the scrum and were able to alleviate some of the pressure they were under.
Not all the old guard had bad days though – Adam Ashley-Cooper showed that he still knows the way to the line. But is he really the right answer when you’re looking for a world-class winger?
Refs and TMOS again make the news
Without going into the details or rights and wrongs of any of the calls, it is concerning that the refs and TMOs are such a prevalent part of the discussion at the moment after so many games.
Against Wales there were many moments that will be debated over the coming days, and comments from Cheika in the press conference where he said “I don’t know the rules anymore” are only going to stoke the fire.
Yes, it’s a tough job to ref professional rugby at this time with the speed and the skill and the pressure, but surely there are ways in which we can get the coaches, the refs and the players better aligned?