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This is no time for X-factor: The Wallabies' challenge is to find a structure to out-structure super-structured Wales

18th September, 2023
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18th September, 2023
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Well, now they’ve got a job on their hands, haven’t they?

The Wallabies’ 22-15 loss to Fiji in Saint Etienne – the most historic of wins for our Pacific mates – leaves them sitting precariously in the Pool C standings and already in that perpetual hurt-zone of mathematical equation with two games still to play.

As it stands, Australia trails unbeaten Wales by four points, and despite being level with Fiji on six points with a slightly better record, the Wallabies sit below the Flying Fijians on account of losing the head-to-head advantage.

Fiji have similarly lost that advantage to Wales after their first weekend loss in Bordeaux, and as if Pool C wasn’t fascinating enough, it’s now clear these head-to-heads are going to play as decisive a role as bonus points in deciding the final standings.

Among several review podcasts I took in after the Australian loss on Monday morning, two themes stood out.

The first and very obvious one being that World Cups aren’t won without experience – the finishing Wallabies backline left to chase that game for the best part of half an hour took the grand sum of 105 Tests into this match, and 85 of those were Marika Koroibete’s and Jordan Petaia’s.

It was no wonder there was little or no idea among them how to manage those crucial closing stages of a must-win Test because a). they had precious little experience of having to do that at international level and b). they’d certainly not done it together as a backline unit.

PARIS, FRANCE – SEPTEMBER 09: Eddie Jones, Head Coach of Australia, during the warm up prior to the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between Australia and Georgia at Stade de France on September 09, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

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Experienced teams don’t engage in 90-second kicking duels with three minutes left on the clock and a seven-point deficit on the scoreboard. Fiji kept kicking it back because they couldn’t believe it kept being presented as an option for them to wind down those final minutes.

The second was that because of the bye on the fifth and final weekend of pool matches, the Wallabies may have to wait until the very last game of the pool stage – Fiji v Portugal in Toulouse on October 8 – before knowing if they make the knockout stage or not. For one whole week after their final game, Australia could have to keep training and preparing for a game they may not get to play.

But never mind that now, because the Wallabies’ task is a whole lot more urgent this week.

After somehow allowing themselves to be comprehensively out-structured by Fiji of all international teams, Australian this week needs to somehow create a gameplan and regain the right amount of deliberate structure in their approach in order to do the same thing to Wales that Fiji did to them.

Yep, that’s right, the Wallabies now need to find a structured game that will allow them to out-structure one of the most structured teams in international rugby.

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On the surface, it feels as analogous as trying to out-fluid a team as unstructured as Fiji traditionally has been, but given the Wallabies actually tried to do that in Saint Etienne, maybe Australian fans can still hold a candle of hope.

If Fiji were happy to take three-point offerings on the numerous times the Wallabies offered them up, we can be assured the Welsh will be more than happy to do the same.

So tactical kicking is going to need to be better, and it needs to be backed up by an excellent kick-chase. Structure will require a strong set piece platform, which means more ball into touch than has been the case so far in the tournament, which in turn requires the highest level of precision at lineout.

Breakdown accuracy while in possession – the permanent Achilles heel of the Wallabies – needs to be the best it’s been in years. My notes point to five separate penalties conceded for not releasing in the last 22 minutes against Fiji, and that’s a long way from being acceptable at international level.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

If even only three of those are in Dan Biggar’s range, there’s nine more points the Wallabies will find themselves chasing right there.

And make no mistake, the Wallabies don’t want to have to chase a game against the Welsh, because they’re far too experienced to exploit in that facet of the game.

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One of the oldest squads in the tournament, and with Lions all across the park, Wales took more than 1000 Tests’ worth of experience into the Fiji match, and the Wallabies can expect something very similar.

Australia against Fiji on the weekend? Five hundred and forty-two.

Eddie Jones needs to find structure urgently, and for goodness’ sake, he needs to get his selections right. Both the Georgia win and Fiji loss highlighted the folly of selecting players of very limited (or no) versatility on the bench, and any continuation of that this week will be the definition of insanity.

Now is not the time for X-factor for Australia.

Structure and definition and intent has to be the Wallabies themes this week; it’s that clear and obvious.

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