Murphy’s Law famously dictates that “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” and while Australia were decimated by injuries in their Rugby Championship mauling at the hands of the All Blacks in Sydney, injury cannot mask what was a spectacularly awful performance from Michael Cheika’s Wallabies side.
Trailing 32-3 at half-time at Stadium Australia, the Wallabies were the new holders of the unwanted record of biggest single half deficit in Bledisloe Cup history. Successive injuries to Matt Giteau, Matt Toomua and Rob Horne, had put Australia in a position where substitute scrum-half Nick Phipps was forced to line up on the wing as the Wallabies had used all of their backline substitutions inside the opening forty minutes.
The constant reshuffling of an under-fire backline brought more confusion to a side that was already under a huge amount of pressure, but it was pressure that was created internally.
The All Blacks were admittedly as clinical and as ruthless as they ever have been, but Australia’s first-half woes were largely due to a misfiring lineout, an underperforming scrum, a slew of ill-discipline at the breakdown and an inability to make effective, clean tackles.
The Wallabies’ errors directly invited the All Blacks to attack, and for a side that averaged 36 points a game last year, they did not need to be asked twice, mercilessly punishing the Wallabies with each and every glaring mistake.
Matt Giteau’s poor exit kick, Bernard Foley’s charge down, Tevita Kuridrani’s bad hands and Stephen Moore’s stolen lineout all led directly to All Black scores.
New Zealand were typically unforgiving and once again demonstrated an uncanny ability to execute basic catch and pass skills at such an unrivalled level that it makes the game look so much easier than it actually is, but in the midst of an All Blacks masterclass, the Wallabies crumbled yet again.
It seems that when Australia have something to prove, and when they’re backs are up against the wall, they always inevitably fall short.
Heading into Saturday’s Rugby Championship opener the Wallabies had everything to play for. Embarrassed by England in a three-match summer series, and with a Rugby World Cup final loss to the All Blacks still fresh in the memory, this was a statement game for the Wallabies. An opportunity for Cheika and his side to show that not only could they successfully retain the Bledisloe Cup, but that they could also overcome June’s series loss to England and not be derailed.
Australia were reinvigorated and re-energised under Cheika last year and had a swagger and a confidence that hadn’t been present in a Wallabies side since Robbie Deans’ 2011 Tri-Nations-winning side.
The 2015 Rugby Championship brought belief and hope back to Australian Rugby after almost a decade of playing second fiddle to their cross-Tasman rivals.
Last year’s Rugby World Cup final loss could be viewed as an anomaly, and a game where New Zealand where simply the better side on the day, but the 3-0 series loss to England and now a 42-8 drubbing to New Zealand at home puts the Wallabies back in the same position they’ve been in for over a decade now – uncertainty.
Whether it’s been Eddie Jones, John Connolly, Robbie Deans, Ewen McKenzie or Cheika, Australia are constantly looking to re-assert themselves as world rugby’s number one side only to fall short when the stakes are highest.
No Australian coach has been able to guide the Wallabies to where the ARU, and their fans want them to be; which is the pre-eminent side in world rugby.
Fox Sports will annually create a storyline where the Wallabies are a world-class side that have been unfortunate to have been edged out by the greatest rugby side ever, but in reality Australia are wildly inconsistent.
Heroic performances against England and Wales at last year’s Rugby World Cup make Australia look like world beaters, but illustrated against Scotland in the quarter-final, and at times against England earlier this summer, this can be a side that is mistake-prone and rattled easily.
England’s abrasive and physical approach rattled the Wallabies in June and New Zealand’s relentless attack in Sydney reaffirmed doubts over this team’s composure and their ability to remain calm in the face of adversity.
This specific loss may be put down to a succession of injuries and mistakes, but in the bigger scheme of things the Wallabies are yet again in a position where they’re experiencing the same issues albeit under a different coach.
The Wallabies will get another shot at redemption next week in Wellington, and while it’s a fresh start they haven’t won on New Zealand soil in 15 years giving credence to the “same issues, different coach” theory.
Jack O’Toole, Pundit Arena
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