The Wallabies will slump to their lowest world ranking ever Monday, sparking soul-searching about what can be done with a troubled team that has managed just two wins in their last nine Tests.
Their alarming slide was reinforced by the 23-19 upset win by Argentina on the Gold Coast on Saturday — the first victory for the Pumas on Australian soil in 35 years, which left the Wallabies last on the four-team Rugby Championship ladder.
It will see them fall to seventh from fifth when World Rugby’s adjusted rankings are released later Monday — their lowest since the current system began in 2003.
And it won’t be getting any easier with a difficult trip in a fortnight to a buoyant South Africa, who are full of confidence after upsetting the All Blacks in Wellington on Saturday. They then face an equally upbeat Argentina in Salta before travelling to Japan to take on New Zealand in the final Bledisloe Cup clash ahead of a tour to Europe.
Coach Michael Cheika blasted his players after the Argentina defeat for their lack of enthusiasm and energy, and he knows the time for excuses are over.
“You can’t be talking about keeping the faith, you need to show it,” he said. “In this situation, it is about having the courage to stand up and turn it around.”
Such is the concern at their slump that Rugby Australia is considering bringing in someone with a different perspective to work with Cheika, according to The Australian newspaper’s senior sports writer Wayne Smith.
The two leading candidates to act as player mentors are former captains John Eales and George Gregan. Smith suggested the poor run of form was not so much Cheika’s fault, but the players, who have been guilty of missing simple tackles and failing to capitalise on attacking opportunities.
“He has stuck by his team through thick and thin, deflecting praise onto his players on those increasingly rare occasions when they have done something wonderful, but taking the blame upon himself all those other times when they failed to deliver,” he wrote.
“These days he is being hung out to dry and what are his players doing to help him? Not much at all.”
The Sydney Daily Telegraph was equally bleak in its assessment, fearing there is not much light at the end of the tunnel.
“Even their most loyal supporters have lost all faith after the Wallabies’ fourth home defeat this year,” it said, adding that the excuses have “worn thin”.
“And now Michael Cheika’s wounded men are facing the ultimate road trip into some of the most hostile rugby grounds on the planet.”
Fairfax Media bemoaned the Wallabies’ skillset as “poor – awful really”.
“It seems astonishing to say but there are few good passers in the Wallabies backline,” it said under a headline “Woeful Wallabies hit a new low.”
“After four rounds of the Rugby Championship the Wallabies are bottom. Sadly, they deserve to be.”
© Agence France-Presse (additional edits from Chris Kelleher)