So the exciting news for fans of Australian rugby is that the Aussie Super Rugby sides are going to get some of their best players back early for an even better pre-season.
Just think about what this could mean for 2020’s competition!
Right, so that’s the good news. The bad news is…well you know the bad news. Getting bundled out of any World Cup is a tough pill to swallow, but losing in this way to England for the seventh time in four years is just too much to take.
This is not how fans or players wanted this tournament to end but maybe, just maybe, it was the horrifying loss that Australian rugby needs to force the changes that have been needed for a while now. But before any changes are made, let’s have a chat about the game.
The Wallabies are their own worst enemies
There was plenty written about how this clash was against the Old Enemy and the importance of putting one over on them on the world stage. In the end, the English weren’t the enemy – they were the opposition.
The enemy was the Wallabies themselves. Or more precisely, the Wallabies’ inability to do the simple things well.
There are key elements to a rugby game that teams who win consistently get right. One of these is the ability to clear your exit your own defensive area and the Wallabies failed quite dramatically at getting this foundational aspect right.
There were two prime examples that would have had fans wondering if it would be so bad to start following AFL or NRL instead. In the first half, the Wallabies were defending inside their 22 and under some pressure.
They managed to get their hands on the ball and Kurtley Beale chose this time to put in a cheeky chip kick. It was the sort of thing you expect at the other end of the field and certainly not when what was needed was a huge cannon of a kick that put the ball into touch somewhere near halfway.
The chip kick was well beyond the reach of Usain Bolt, let alone Reece Hodge, and the English eagerly took the ball and forced the Aussies onto the back foot yet again.
The other example was in the second half when Will Genia was the culprit. Again the Wallabies needed to get out of their end of the field and force England way back. Genia had the ball from the breakdown and chose to kick.
The problem was he kicked poorly – it didn’t go long and England got both the ball and position to keep the Wallabies under pressure at a crucial stage of the game.
This inability to relieve pressure and execute basic tactical plays has been an issue for Australia for a while and it just doesn’t make sense why it keeps happening. And this is before we’ve even spoken about the restarts – they were just embarrassing.
Selection headaches turn into migraines
Michael Cheika has never been afraid to make controversial selection decisions. So when he brought in players like Will Genia, Kurtley Beale and Jordan Petaia and chose a halves pairing that had played twice together before, it wasn’t surprising.
It almost felt like a death or glory call. Unfortunately, there’s no glory to be seen.
Genia had a poor game from start to finish. Loopy passes that went to no one but the touch judge, clearing kicks that didn’t clear anything and a painful knock on at the ruck as his final action.
But is anyone really that surprised that he wasn’t the saviour of this Wallabies side? He hasn’t been in the best form for a while.
Clearly Cheika is a seafood lover, because he can’t get enough of Kurtley Beale’s crab impression. For every good thing the fullback did against England he would make two errors and that debt is too much to handle.
Now to be fair Petaia looked good and Rugby Australia need to make sure they keep that guy in Australia for the next eight years at least. But pinning your World Cup hopes to a 19-year-old who has played so little Test match rugby is just crazy.
The selections are one thing. The constant chopping and changing is another and that’s had a terrible impact on the Wallabies. How after four years did Cheika not know his number one halves pairing or his number one centre partnership before the quarter-finals of the World Cup?
Cheika should not need to reassure journalists and fans that Genia and Christian Lealiifano have been playing well together in training. We should have seen them done it 20 to 30 times already on the field in the heat of battle.
Such a shame that Kerevi and Petaia are over
Samu Kerevi doesn’t need to worry about packing all his bags. He’s going to be playing in Japan next season so perhaps he could leave some stuff there before heading back to Queensland.
This is such a loss to Australian rugby as the power running centre has been one of the highlights of 2019 in both Super Rugby and international levels.
His pairing with Jordan Petaia could have been something pretty special for the Wallabies and the Reds. Both have hard running games and quick feet that scare defenders, and Kerevi has really come on as an inspiring leader this year in Brisbane.
There were some exciting glimpses of this new partnership against England a lot of the go-forward came from the centres. For this to be the last time that fans get to see these two play together for at least three years is a real shame.
On the upside – there were times earlier in the tournament where Kerevi and James O’Connor looked good together, so perhaps there’s hope yet.
It’s not our fault!
Michael Cheika’s habit of telling press conferences that he felt his team played well while the scoreboard in the background shows another Wallabies’ loss has become commonplace. To begin with, it came across as him wanting to stand up for and protect his players – an understandable trait for sure.
But over months and years neither message nor the scoreboard really changed much. What has changed is that Cheika’s comments have ended up sounding like he’s naive and unwilling to acknowledge the real issues facing his team. In fact it’s gone beyond that – it’s turned into a “we played well so it can’t be our fault” and this has spread to the team.
This isn’t saying that the Wallabies have ended up blaming refs or the weather or the wifi connection for their losses. But they have been unable and unwilling to take responsibility and this has led to a group who have not been able to change over the past four years like other teams have.
Ask yourself this question – which players have become better players under Cheika? Or this one – how has the Wallabies’ playing style evolved since the last World Cup?
Not only have the Wallabies lost the ability to win, they’ve lost the ability to take responsibility for that inability and to do something about it. Saying your team played well when they didn’t isn’t protecting your players.
It’s disillusioning them and creating the wrong sort of culture.
It’s hard to know exactly what happens behind the scenes obviously and this is all just assumption, but when your boss keeps saying to the public that your performance was good when you’ve lost again, something’s not right.
Beale more rocks than diamonds now
The time has come for Kurtley Beale to step down from the Wallabies. He’s been criticised for a while now, but today brought into sharp focus that Beale is just not right for international rugby at the top level.
He missed four tackles from five attempts, conceded a turnover, kicked poorly, ran sideways and put far too much pressure on his own side. He can be forgiven for the intercept pass he threw considering that the game was done by that point and the Aussies had to try something, but nonetheless Beale is no longer the devastating ball runner he once was.
Yes he did make a lovely break at one point in the opening half when the play broke up a bit, but that on its own is just not enough.
It’s a shame that his weaknesses were put on such a public display but any new Wallabies regime has got to say to Beale, thank you for your service, now go and enjoy Super Rugby.
2019 needs to be the turning point
The past four years have been a rough period for rugby in Australia. The international side has fallen down the rankings and now teams such as Fiji are a genuine threat thanks to their hard work and the Wallabies’ slide.
The Super Rugby sides have failed to deliver with only two Australian teams making a semi-final since 2015. One Super Rugby club didn’t even survive the four years.
2019 has been the climax with both on-field and off-field issues dogging the sport. While the Wallabies were preparing for their ultimately unsuccessful quarter-final against England, the newspapers ran headlines of the ongoing Israel Folau saga. And now RA are going to have to find a new coach and take a good, long hard look at themselves.
But more than anything, they have to draw a line in the sand and say that 2019 will be a low point to which they and the sport shall never return. From the grassroots of the sport to the international level, the sport needs a clear and exciting vision combined with a strategy that can be successfully executed.
There is real talent in the playing groups and many of the younger Wallabies teams are showing the future can be bright. If this raw talent can be taught how to play intelligent rugby then the future looks bright. But it’s not going to happen overnight and this weekend’s performance has highlighted that there is a long and tough journey ahead.
There is a lot more to talk about following this sad exit from the World Cup and the topics above have only just scratched the surface. There were even some positives buried deeply in there somewhere.
It will be interesting to see how Rugby Australia react in the coming weeks. The situation with Cheika is just one of these – bigger changes are needed and if they aren’t then it won’t matter who takes on the role of head coach. Let’s hope that the next four years are different.