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Does Drew Mitchell want the Wallabies to try to win the World Cup or just try to avoid embarrassing losses?

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12th November, 2022
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The Wallabies first loss to Italy last night was of course bitterly disappointing, even though the Italians have improved dramatically from being the perennial laughing stock of European first tier rugby, that they have been in previous years.

We should congratulate the Italians on what is for them a famous victory and I add that seeing some Italian players come straight up to poor Ben Donaldson who missed the final kick to comfort him, made it even easier to be happy for the Azzurri and their fans.

As a Reds fans I haven’t seen much of Donaldson playing prior to this, but from what I did see in this game he looks like he is a classy number 10 who played well other than the missed kick, so I will look forward to seeing more of what he can do in a gold jersey.

Of course none of this disguises the fact that there were a lot of problems in the way that the Wallabies played, with the perennial issues of discipline and the lineout plaguing their game. Halfback Jake Gordon’s stupid yellow card for taking out a player without the ball would have to be the lowest lowlight of many during the game, two of the Azzurri tries were scored while he was off the park.

Jake Gordon of Australia passes the ball out wide during the Autumn International match between Italy and Australia at Stadio Artemio Franchi on November 12, 2022 in Florence, Italy. (Photo by Timothy Rogers/Getty Images)

Jake Gordon of Australia passes the ball out wide during the Autumn International match between Italy and Australia at Stadio Artemio Franchi on November 12, 2022 in Florence, Italy. (Photo by Timothy Rogers/Getty Images)

I don’t know whether the Wallabies are being trained to play cynically or whether some just do it themselves, but unless it stops they will keep losing.

That aside there have been comments, primarily by former Wallaby Drew Mitchell about Dave Rennie’s coaching, that have frankly gotten up my nose.

Drew Mitchell knows infinitely more about rugby then I do but Dave Rennie has been a rugby coach who has won Super Rugby twice, so I tend to think that Mitchell’s critical tone could perhaps lean towards the more respectful and constructive.

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Specifically, Mitchell has argued that the Wallabies need steady selection to develop combinations towards the World Cup and that Dave Rennie shouldn’t have replaced 12 players for the game against Italy.

On combinations I would ask Mitchell, what about injuries? For example the Wallabies had a great 10/12 combination in Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi planned this year, but both got injured at different times and didn’t play together. That combination made no contribution to the Wallabies this year.

On the flip side World Cups can still be won by teams playing lower ranked players. New Zealand proved it when they won the 2011 Rugby World Cup off the goal kick of a washed up fourth choice 10, who had to be called back from white baiting to cover for injuries. So I don’t see much point in trying to develop combinations in modern rugby, but if Mitchell wants to explain why they are still relevant I am all ears.

Ironically Mitchell’s second criticism about the rotation of players against Italy, is at least in part intended to manage injuries during the long end of year tour campaign. Rennie has specifically said that he is using this campaign as practice for the World Cup.

As Mitchell well knows in every World Cup, coaches rotate players against the weaker teams to manage their workload. I take his point that the Wallabies are seventh in the world at the moment and against a much improved Italy rotation was a risk, but the fact remains that Italy is still the weakest Six Nations team, so are the only candidate against who the Wallabies can rest players.

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The Wallabies can only get away with losing one pool game in the World Cup to have any chance of winning it, so if winning is the objective then rotating against weaker teams to conserve the best players for the toughest games seems like a must, with this tour being excellent practice to achieve this goal.

So my second question to Mitchell is, do you want Rennie to try and have the Wallabies win every game like they will have to in order to win the World Cup? Alternatively, would you rather the Wallabies just accepted that they are seventh in the world and play their best squad to bank wins against weaker teams like for example Fiji in the pools, even if it means throwing away the chance of beating stronger teams?

This is a key question, because the answer will reveal whether Mitchell thinks that the Wallabies should aim to be World Cup contenders or just participants. This should be a question all Wallabies supporters ask of themselves, a question that might impact their attitudes towards Rennie’s selection policy on this tour.

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