Worst might still be to come as Wallabies slump to seventh in world rankings
17 September, 2018, 11:35 pm
SYDNEY,17 SEPTEMBER 2018 (SMH) -The Wallabies will officially fall to their lowest ever world ranking on Monday but the alarming reality is Michael Cheika’s men could slip below seventh given what lies ahead for a side still coming to grips with a deflating loss to Argentina.
Mondays are never pleasant for Wallabies players after a loss but the post-mortem following a 23-19 defeat to the Pumas will be made all the worse by the fact Australia is set to be leapfrogged by South Africa (5th) and Scotland (6th) when World Rugby releases its latest rankings.
Since the current rankings system began in 2003, the Wallabies have never been as low as seventh and this latest loss has shone the spotlight on a number of different areas that indicate the Australians are back-tracking rather than improving a year out from the World Cup.
The team has won two matches from its last nine starts and the last time they posted back-to-back wins was in November against Japan and Wales. Cheika’s overall winning record is now back to an even 50 per cent.
Cheika believes talk is cheap at a time when the Wallabies need to give a better account of themselves.
“You can’t be talking about keeping the faith … you need to show it,” Cheika said. “There are a lot of supporters out there who are behind you no matter what but you have to be mindful of them as well. You have to show it on the field, not talk off the field.”
The group have a week off to conduct more soul-searching and put their finger on what went wrong in a home international season that yielded two victories from six starts. Since the World Cup, the Wallabies have won eight tests from 19 starts in Australia (42 per cent).
Unfortunately, things are only going to get tougher in the coming weeks. On Saturday, the team departs for Port Elizabeth to take on the Springboks, a side sky-high on confidence after beating the All Blacks 36-34 in New Zealand in one of the grittiest wins you will see.
If the Wallabies play like they did against the Pumas, by missing simple tackles and failing to capitalise on favourable attacking opportunities, they could lose by plenty to the Springboks and especially if they lack “enthusiasm” as they have done in recent matches. How that is possible is mind-boggling.
“In this situation, it is about having the courage to stand up and turn it around,” Cheika said. “It was at the forefront of discussions in the dressing room after the game and it’ll be at the forefront of discussions when we get together again when we travel to South Africa. It’s going to be a big game after they beat New Zealand.
“[There was] not enough energy in the key moments. So many opportunities, so many chances, both in attack and defence. We lacked enthusiasm at the key moments often and that let us down.”
From there, the Wallabies face a tricky Test in Salta against the Pumas and Mario Ledesma’s men will fancy themselves three times as much at altitude in the north of Argentina. Saturday’s win was as big a confidence boost as you can get.
A loss there and the Wallabies coaching staff will be under enormous pressure heading into a dead rubber Bledisloe Cup match in Yokohama. Defeat there could bring the tally to 10 losses from 12 matches and the knives will be as sharp as ever.
“We need to be able to understand what is working for us, what is not working for us and change the things that aren’t working so that we can get some wins on the board when we get on the road now,” Cheika said. “There are still six away games and we’ve got to make the most of every one.
“[I have] been through runs before where it’s not happening and it happened the week before for us and we didn’t bring that consistency this week. Now we get a run of games away from home and we’re going to have to get more consistent and show the enthusiasm we showed in Brisbane … and be accountable for that.”
The loss, Australia’s first to Argentina on home soil since 1983, will be remembered for Israel Folau’s brain snap to not pass the ball to Bernard Foley who would have scored a certain match-winner with seconds remaining.
Without question, Cheika would have asked Folau for a please explain but the Wallabies boss said concentrating on the blunder would gloss over other glaring issues throughout the contest.
“To put everything into the last play or last pass of the game is a bit naive for us,” Cheika said. “Yes, we could have got the win, but you shouldn’t be in that situation in the first place with the amount of opportunity we had and the amount of times we let those opportunities go. It should have been well and truly finished by then.”