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After a year of mixed results, are the Wallabies on the right track under Dave Rennie?

By RugbyPass
(Photo by Steve Welsh/PA Images/Matt King/ via Getty Images and Brett Phibbs / www.photosport.nz)

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The RugbyPass Round Table writers answer the big questions at the end of 2021, looking back at the year that was in context to what lays ahead. Alex McLeod (AM), Tom Vinicombe (TV), Nick Turnbull (NT), Mike Rehu (MR), Ben Smith (BS), Jordan King (JK), Jack O’Rourke (JO) and Finn Morton (FM) weigh in on a range of topics on the international game and more in this end-of-2021 review. 

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The Wallabies started the season with a 2-1 home series win over France, securing the series 33-30 in Brisbane despite going down to 14-men very early in the first half after a red card in the deciding test.

With hopes on the rise, Dave Rennie’s team travelled to New Zealand for back-to-back tests at Eden Park. Their Bledisloe Cup hopes were dashed before getting back to Australia.

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Despite a late fightback in the first test, which they lost 33-25, the side was defeated 57-22 in the rematch a week later.

Returning to Perth, the Wallabies lost their third straight test to the All Blacks before turning their campaign around by defeating the World Cup-winning Springboks twice in a row to spark a five-game winning streak that featured two wins over Argentina and one against Japan.

That winning run came to an end with a tight 15-13 loss to Scotland at Murrayfield, which was the start of a winless end-of-year tour that saw a 32-15 loss to England at Twickenham and another close 29-28 defeat to Wales in Cardiff.

After a year of mixed results, are the Wallabies on the right track under Dave Rennie?

BS: Yes. The state of the Wallabies after the Cheika-era was rock bottom. They have built a legitimate test side again around the promising youth in Australian rugby by recalling the experienced players plying their trade offshore.

The most impressive aspect of the Wallabies was the level of execution they had at their best in 2021. They executed the details precisely to play an attractive brand of test rugby that has not been seen for a long time from a Wallabies side.

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The biggest question mark going forward is the availability of overseas stars such as Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi, both of whom were influential in Australia’s five-game win streak.

If they can’t be on the park every time the Wallabies play or when they need them, it is going to be hard to make massive strides as a unit.

AM: Yes. While they didn’t end the year as they would have liked, succumbing to their first winless European tour in almost half a century, there was plenty to like about the Wallabies this year.

Sure, they are still yet to reclaim the Bledisloe Cup, but back-to-back victories over the Springboks and a series win over a second-string France side shows this side are very capable.

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The big thing for Dave Rennie and Rugby Australia is to ensure they can obtain the services of Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi leading up to the next World Cup as their absences were sorely felt in Europe.

TV: Two excellent wins over the Springboks aside, results haven’t exactly been heading in the right direction for the Wallabies.

There are few better coaches than Dave Rennie, but even he will struggle to turn Australia into world-beaters.

Without Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi on the park, it’s difficult to say the Wallabies have improved their relative standing in the world this year.

FM: Without a doubt, the Wallabies are a team headed in the right direction. Having had their best season for years in 2021, Dave Rennie rightfully deserves credit for that success.

With such a young team – including players such as Harry Wilson and Fraser McReight, who were left off the end of year tour – there’s plenty to like about this team.

MR: Any team that can beat the Springboks two weekends in a row has got something going for them.

Australia has had top-quality athletes in their midst, but so often have been let down by its front row. I think by the next World Cup, Angus Bell and Taniela Tupou will be one of the best pairs in the world.

Michael Hooper and Samu Kerevi are brilliant, although I think Rennie’s one issue is still at fly-half, but it will be interesting to follow the Cooper comeback story.

NT: Yes. It was a brave call to recall Quade Cooper to the Wallabies, but it was a Dave Rennie masterstroke.

The story of the ‘Prodigal Son’ has many faces in the Wallabies camp when you consider Cooper, Andrew Kellaway, Will Skelton, Samu Kerevi and others.

Australian rugby had an ability like no other to push talent offshore, yet, under Rennie, not only is homegrown talent – such as lock Darcy Swain and centre Len Ikitau – being given an opportunity, it is building bridges with its diaspora beyond the ‘Giteau Law’.

JK: The Wallabies have improved and are on the right track, but Rennie and his side are at the mercy of whomever is running the cutter.

I’m not the biggest fan of the trio he picked from this year, Noah Lolesio, James O’Connor and Quade Cooper, but if they’re to have any consistent success in 2022, they’ll have to have picked their guy and stick by him.

JO: There are still a few missing pieces needed to turn the Wallabies into a world-class side, but under Dave Rennie the picture is starting to emerge. One thing is for certain, the players are all buying into “the Rennie Way”, just listen to any press conference where the lads are asked about team culture.

The Wallabies challenges are well-documented (player depth, funding, pathways etc.), but if Rennie can wring out every last drop of potential from the squad he is able to put together and recapture the imagination of supporters like he did after those two victories of the Boks, then there is hope for the future.

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