Few followers of Australian rugby would say that the current coaching staff had succeeded in improving the players since Super Rugby.
In 2018 the Super Rugby results were significantly improved on 2017, yet the team has spiralled only further downwards – indeed I would go so far as to say that players have deskilled since Super Rugby.
While the Brumbies started the season extremely poorly, by the second half of the season they had a potent attack in which players were running into space, receiving the ball out in front of them and often offloading in the tackle. Further, there was plenty of interplay between the forwards and the backs.
While the Rebels struggled for direction at No.10, they also had an efficient attack throughout the season, proving themselves capable of punishing the opposition when given counterattacking opportunities.
Though the Waratahs struggled in defence, they of course had a wonderful attack throughout the season led by Bernard Foley at 10 and Kurtley Beale at 12. With a mobile and skilled pack the ball was moved quickly through the hands of both the forwards and the backs.
The Waratahs, Brumbies and Reds all had good line-outs.
(Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Since entering the Wallabies environment these players have lost all attacking ability. There is rarely any linking between forwards and backs, the ball rarely seems to get past second receiver, offloading and tactical kicking have all but disappeared and even Foley and Beale have seemingly lost all ability to attack.
The Wallabies line-out is nothing short of diabolical.
This of course can be partially explained by the fact that the opposition is of higher quality at the international level. However, the players in the Wallabies are of a higher standard than those in Super Rugby teams too, so this should even out.
The Argentine team is essentially the Jaguares, meaning the argument of facing better players does not apply to them at the very least, and they still beat the Wallabies in Australia.
The coaching and selections of the Wallabies are now so poor that almost everyone agrees that there must be a change in coaching staff.
Under Michael Cheika the Wallabies have slipped to seventh in the world rankings.
Overall, against tier-one nations – I consider tier one to be the Rugby Championship teams and the Six Nations teams excluding Italy – Cheika’s Wallabies only have a winning percentage over 50 per cent against Wales and Argentina. His overall win percentage against tier-one sides is below 50 per cent and his win percentage against tier-one sides since the start of 2016 is only 35 per cent.
If one excludes Argentina, who until their change of coach this year would probably not have been considered a tier-one side, Cheika’s post-World Cup win percentage drops to 27 per cent.
(Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Many Australian players who should have been in the Wallabies side have gone overseas under Cheika as they were mysteriously omitted or even allegedly informed that they were not wanted for international duty anymore. Meanwhile other good players find it impossible to break into the Wallabies, with inferior players selected ahead of them.
Scott Fardy, Luke Jones, Nic White, Matt Toomua, Scott Higginbotham, Lopeti Timani and Joe Tomane belong to the first group. Fardy, despite being one of the best No.6s in the world, inexplicably fell behind Dean Mumm in the pecking order and by all accounts went overseas as he was aware his Wallabies days were over; Jones could not make it into the team consistently; White fell behind Nick Phipps despite White being crucial in the Wallabies’ victory over the All Blacks in 2015, and subsequently proving he is one of the top No.9s in the UK; Toomua was left behind an aged Matt Giteau in 2015 and 2016; Higginbotham was ignored; Timani was never rewarded for his good performances in gold, being unable to get consistent minutes; and Tomane fell behind aged Adam Ashley-Cooper and Drew Mitchell despite being Australia’s form winger.
Brandon Paenga Amosa, Angus Cottrell, Tom English and Tom Banks belong to the latter group of players who are still often ignored for international duties.
In addition to this, Cheika has continued with surly non-responses to the media when queried about his unacceptable results. At times Cheika has resembled the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail when defending the team’s performances in the media. The same applies to Michael Hooper as captain.
A few weeks ago Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus admitted publically that unless his results improved he might not be coach leading up to the Rugby World Cup. Despite having far worse results, it is impossible to imagine the same level of honesty with the fans from Cheika.
Some may defend Cheika’s record based on the Wallabies’ 2015 World Cup run. To be fair this was an excellent result. Beyond the fact though that we have had almost three years of unacceptable results since then, there are a number of other factors that cast question marks over the World Cup result.
First, the only teams Australia actually beat were a terribly out of form England who did not even make it out of their pool, a Welsh side Australia always beats, Argentina and Scotland. Importantly, the victory over Scotland in the quarter-final was the result of an incorrect refereeing decision. Were it not for that decision, while it was still possible for Australia to win, it seemed highly unlikely.
What needs to be done
A change of coach is necessary. The rapid improvements of South Africa and Argentina following their changes of coach this year proves rapid improvements can be made with the same squad of players if the coaching is improved.
Jake White should be pursued as head coach at least until the Rugby World Cup. White’s Brumbies were criticised for their lack of an expansive game plan, but he took a side near the bottom of Super Rugby and got them to a final in New Zealand within two years, a final in which the side almost won but for fantastic defence from Aaron Cruden.
Even after White’s departure and with an inexperienced coach in Stephen Larkham the Brumbies made the finals every year between 2014 and 2017 despite the mass exodus of players that occurred in 2016 and 2017.
White has had success wherever he has gone and is a World Cup-winning coach. His game plan is simple, effective and easy to learn, and he just recently expressed a desire to coach the Wallabies.
(Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
Laurie Fisher and Jim McKay would be top-quality assistant coaches were Rugby Australia also to move on Larkham, Nathan Grey and Simon Raiwalui after their results.
Post-World Cup Rugby Australia should consider signing Jake White for a further four years or chase any of the following names: Joe Schmidt, Dave Rennie, Jamie Joseph, Johan Ackermann and Vern Cotter. As painful as it might be for some to hear, no current Australian coaches are good enough to be considered for the role.
Additionally, anyone who followed Robbie Deans’s period as coach of the Wallabies or read his biography would know that he was wonderful in terms of imparting a lot of intellectual property through the state unions. All attempts should be made to bring in Deans as director of rugby and Australian coaching so that he can ensure that coaching and fitness are up to standard in all Super Rugby and National Rugby Championship teams as well as provide much-needed support and mentorship for all Australian coaches.
This is far from a comprehensive plan to save Australian rugby, but these short-term changes would have the effect of providing an immediate much-needed boost to Australian rugby.
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