Welcome to the RWC2019 Debriefs. The World Cup is now over and a new 4 year cycle begins, but the first stage of any cycle should be looking back at how things went – what went wrong and what went right – before looking on to how things go for the next cycle to ensure qualification to RWC2023 (if they haven’t automatically qualified) and to make sure they enter that tournament in peak form.
I will be going through these debriefs alphabetically, so today I will be casting my eye over Australia.
Australia qualified by finishing in the top 3 of their pool at RWC2015, where they went all the way to the final.
The build-up to this tournament was a mixed one for the Wallabies. Having to move on from Israel Folau following his dismissal for his homophobic social media posts, they finished 2nd in the Rugby Championship, coming back from a loss in South Africa to win at home against Argentina before a shock 47-26 victory over New Zealand in Perth, however they then fell to the All Blacks 36-0 in Auckland a week later. They finished off their preparations for the World Cup with a 34-15 win over Samoa.
- Pool Stages (2nd in Pool D)
- Australia 39-21 Fiji
- Australia 25-29 Wales
- Australia 45-10 Uruguay
- Australia 27-8 Georgia
- England 40-16 Australia
The mixed results from Australia continued into the World Cup. The early stages of their match against Fiji saw them struggling against the Islanders and they were lucky not to lose Reece Hodge in the first half for a high tackle on Peceli Yato. Yato’s failed HIA and a scrum dominance for the Wallabies helped them take control and a swap from Nic White to Will Genia at scrum half helped secure the victory, though they did lose Hodge for the rest of the pool stages due to a 3-match ban. They again struggled early against Wales, but a swap from Bernard Foley to Matt To’omua helped get the Wallabies back in the game – just too late to get the victory. Two victories in their last 2 games confirmed their place in the quarters, but against Georgia they were heavily penalised and 2 late tries helped tilt the scoreline in their favour. Going into the knockouts, 2 Jonny May tries gave England a lead in the first half and while Marika Koroibete scored soon after the break, Kyle Sinckler’s quick response took the wind out of their sails, while a series of penalties and unnecessary risks killed off the game.
While Michael Cheika did a wonderful job coming in ahead of the last World Cup and taking them from poor performances to finalists, the team for this tournament was nowhere near the level that they arguably should have been. Bernard Foley had been pretty mucht he only fly half used throughout the 4 year cycle, but was suddenly dropped at the last minute, leading to a revolving door at the position between him, To’omua and Christian Lealiifano, with none of them able to get enough time to build any modicum of stability. This wasn’t helped by a similar rotation at scrum half, where Nic White’s return suddenly saw him and Will Genia swapping regularly. The constant chopping and changing in the halfbacks meant that the Wallabies were always going to struggle against a competitive team.
The 2015 tournament is well remembered for the way that Michael Hooper and David Pocock combined in the back row, leading to a trend of teams playing two 7s in their back row. The pair struggled to replicate the performances in 2019 however, and I think that comes down to the selection of an attacking 8 in Isi Naisarani, who did a good job in the tournament but did not do the same job of relentlessly tackling everyone for “Pooper” to jackal over that Scott Fardy did in 2015. While the scrum was often a strength and physical backs like Samu Kerevi and Koroibete did a great job of helping to put the team on the front foot, there was not enough control around them to take advantage of it on a regular basis.
First things first is going to be finding a new head coach. It has already been announced that Michael Cheika will not be continuing in the role. I have felt for a while that the coaching has been holding the team back so it will be important to get the right person in that will give the squad stability and get them playing the right way.
It will be very interesting to see what happens with this squad, as the back line may be full of experience, but many of them will likely be past their prime come 2023. Of the backs in the World Cup squad, only Reece Hodge and Jordan Petaia will be under 30 by the time the next tournament comes around. The core of that back line has been together for a long time and with some players like Will Genia set to move on, this is an opportune moment to start cultivating a new young team that has not been heavily impacted by the ups and downs of the current regime.
Things are a little rosier in the pack, where there a plenty of younger talents coming through already despite players like David Pocock, James Slipper and Sekope Kepu reaching the end of their international careers. The scrum has been an area of the game that has vastly improved over the last 5 years and that will be a great weapon to build on over the next 2 years, while Tolu Latu, Jordan Uelese, Allan Alaalatoa, Taniela Tupou, Jack Dempsey, Naisarani and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto will be seasoned veterans by the time the next tournament comes around.
The next head coach has a big task on their hands, but there is plenty of talent available to create a strong team quickly.