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The Wallabies didn't lose because of Romain Poite, but World Rugby, we do have a problem

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Expert
29th September, 2019
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Let’s be very clear from the top. Australia did not lose to Wales in Tokyo because of Romain Poite.

The Wallabies did a lot of things poorly, just as the Welsh did a lot of things very, very well in their thrilling 29-25 win, which has well and truly set them up to top Pool D and making them every bit of a contender to reach the tournament’s semi-finals and beyond.

There can be no question that the Welsh played the perfect game of Cup rugby, taking points whenever they were on offer, even if that offer arrived within 40 seconds of kick-off.

Wales forced Australia to play a game they didn’t want to play, made the most of their opportunities, and defended the maul astutely in the final half an hour as the Wallabies chased the game.

That Bernard Foley was hooked just four minutes into the second half was illustrative both of the curiosity that surrounded his inclusion to begin with, and for the thinking that he could somehow have done something to change the coach’s mind in just four minutes.

Use of the bench in modern rugby is generally formulaic. It’s really only injury or a red card that forces coaches away from the ground-in template that generally sees forwards replaced in the 50-to-60-minute range, and backs usually in the last 20 minutes.

When your halves are both benched ten minutes before your starting front row, it’s a bit more than just a rough night for the individuals. Time will soon tell if Foley and Will Genia’s surprise promotion is what costs Australia the knockout path they had put themselves on.

And Wallabies coach Michael Cheika obviously had the thought early to send Matt Toomua into the contest for Foley, but it does beg the question why he didn’t just pull that rein at half time.

What could Foley possibly have done in four minutes to make the impact that he never looked like making in the first 40? Why put Toomua through the stress of knowing he’s going on way earlier that planned, but still at a yet-to-be-determined point in the second half?

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Fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on how you want to look at it – most of the Wallabies’ urgent remedial work can now be done under the radar, with the talking points from the game in Tokyo completely dominated by the performance of referee Poite and television match official Ben Skeen.

Michael Hooper

(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

I have a lot of sympathy for the both of them. They’re professionals and earn a living doing what they love within the game that has given them so much.

They have ambition like any player or coach, and the Rugby World Cup is every bit as life-defining for them as it is for the blokes on the field or up in the coach’s box.

So when World Rugby comes out after the first week of the tournament and declares that “the match officials team recognise that performances were not consistently of the standards set by World Rugby and themselves,” everyone knew what was coming.

The motivation behind such a damning statement is frankly mind-blowing.

It’s one thing to hand down this kind of assessment to the referees and match officials through the normal review process that goes on behind closed doors, but what could possibly be gained by making that kind of statement publicly?

And why on earth would you force them to put their own name to such a public stoning?

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‘The officials admit they haven’t been as good as we need them to be and they’d like to be’. Who does that to their employees?

So, of course, with their own forced admission of dud performances and underwhelming KPIs still ringing in their ears, and already knowing that players have copped big suspensions for things that didn’t earn yellow cards on the field, Poite and Skeen went into a big game determined to get everything right to the letter of the law.

And so they did.

I had every intention of including all kind of quotes and tweets and posts from commentators and pundits from all over the world made during and in the aftermath of the Australia-Wales game, but I really don’t have to.

You’ve undoubtedly seen them already, and the message in all of them is the same.

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That game in Tokyo was officiated so meticulously, so pedantically, so don’t-dare-make-a-bloody-mistaking-ingly because of World Rugby’s sheer and absolute stupidity.

This Rugby World Cup has had so many wonderful moments already: the astonishing opening ceremony, Uruguay’s superb win over Fiji, the host nation’s Miracle of Shizuoka, and the incredible atmosphere at every ground among them.

But all of that is being quickly eroded by the governing body’s own assurance that this RWC is remembered only for the officiating.

And though publicly the Wallabies coaching team are seething about said officiating and not without good reason, privately they will be relieved that their own performance in this game won’t get the scrutiny it really deserves.