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Dave Rennie's Wallabies are not lost or aimless, they're on a road to somewhere

By Nick Turnbull

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After finishing their 2021 season with a controversial 29-28 loss to the Welsh in Cardiff that subsequently ensured a winless European tour the question begs, where are the Wallabies truly at under the tenure of Dave Rennie?

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The ‘talking heads’ will talk – that’s what they do, especially after his uncharacteristic criticism of some of the officiating the Wallabies experienced on tour against Scotland and later Wales, warranted or not.

Rennie said post the defeat in Cardiff, “Kurtley Beale got sin-binned for slapping the ball down; they do the same thing, it clearly goes forward and they get seven points out of us,”

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All Blacks head coach Ian Foster reacts to the loss against France
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All Blacks head coach Ian Foster reacts to the loss against France

“I felt it as important I spoke my mind – I’ve been a professional coach for over 20 years and I’ve never gone to the media and had a crack at the referee or referee group, but I felt I had to tonight.”

Considering the affable New Zealander was ushered into the Wallabies coaching role by former Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle to replace Michael Cheika, who himself at times had turbulent and tumultuous interactions with the media when commenting on his perception of questionable officiating, the media conference in Cardiff leaves an ironical taste.

Dave Rennie should be cautious about continuing on such a path in the future as it does not abide by his schtick.

One of Dave Rennie’s greatest assets is that he does appear to be a controlled and considered thinker who personifies the value of respect and values the relationships both internally and externally to the Australian game. It is his example and management of the Wallabies that appears to have his side on the right trajectory both culturally and to a lesser degree in performance thus far.

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For those who define success purely on the win-loss ratio, 2021 has not been a dominant year for the Wallabies winning only seven of their 14 test matches.

However, culturally as a group the Wallabies appear to be in the right space. They are playing for each other and the jersey that has resulted in some breath-taking performances in season 2021 and invites cautious optimism for the future.

A 2-1 home series defeat of a depleted French side exposed the Wallabies inaccuracies in the contact zone, yet despite some dubious officiating in the decider at Brisbane that saw winger Marike Koroibete sent off for a high tackle on French skipper Anthony Jelonch in the 5th minute, the Wallabies still found a way to win 33-30.

It was a seminal moment that illustrated that under Dave Rennie, his Wallabies will not quit despite any adversity and that is what has endeared him to the Australian rugby public.

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The Wallabies were again outgunned by New Zealand in the Bledisloe Cup, not winning a test and that was the most disappointing outcome considering the Bledisloe results of 2020.

Yet a post-series selection masterstroke by Dave Rennie saw the recalling of both Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi to the Wallaby fold.

Few could question the impetus both selections had on the group as not only did it build a relationship with the foreign-based Wallabies, it showed that the Wallabies can still mix it with the best evidenced by their two defeats of the 2019 World Cup-winning Springboks during the Rugby Championship.

Even if one was not a fan of Australian rugby or often maligned fly-half Quade Cooper, only the coldest of hearts would have not celebrated a career performance such as that the Queenslander put in against the South Africans at the Gold Coast landing a post siren long-range penalty to seal the win 28-26.

The Wallabies had defeated a Rugby Superpower – twice. Would we have seen that if coach Rennie were not brave enough to make the calls?

Even when down to 14 men in Cardiff the Wallabies were not going to quit. They don’t – and they almost snatched another famous victory only losing this time themselves victims to a post siren penalty. But despite losing 29-28, they won respect for the way they refused to yield despite the odds.

To attain this, culturally the Wallabies must be in good places but that culture isn’t yet preventing the Wallabies from making some basic errors and gifting their opponents points or field position through ill-discipline.

If there is a side that knows how to defeat itself, it is Dave Rennie’s Wallabies and that is his greatest challenge for 2022.

The honeymoon period for Dave Rennie is well and truly over and the self-sabotage of 2021 will not be tolerated by the Australian rugby public in 2022. Whilst the grit endears, Rennie must be aware that heroic losses only give one so much credit but he has time on his side.

The English will tour Australia in 2022 and nothing will soothe the pain of a winless 2021 European tour than a series defeat of an Eddie Jones coached England. As a Kiwi living in Australia, he may now have some insight into how much each country revels in defeating each other in just about anything. He appears to be building a squad capable of defeating the English.

2021 offered so much in terms of selections; Did anyone predict at the beginning of the year Andrew Kellaway would be nominated as one of the World Rugby Players of the year? That Will Skelton, Rory Arnold, Tolo Latu, Kurtley Beale, Quade Cooper, Samu Kerevi and Sean McMahon would be recalled into the squad? That at 38, Greg Holmes would get a final run in Wallaby gold, or Australian rugby’s ‘Mike Whitney’ – Ollie Hoskins would earn his maiden test cap and who could forget the emotion he showed and how his new teammates, most strangers days before got around him.

These are all good stories of Australian rugby that need to be told and celebrated thanks to Dave Rennie.

The evidence suggests that Dave Rennie’s Wallabies have the cultural foundations to build greater success upon. The challenge moving forward is can Australian rugby harness all of its playing diasporas when required? Can the Wallabies themselves shoot more downrange, than themselves in the foot? The former may be in the hands of World Rugby and Rugby Australia whilst the latter is firmly in the hands of Coach Rennie and his staff.

All things considered – the Wallabies under Dave Rennie are not lost, aimless or without merit. Yet they are a side that has not truly found themselves but are on a road to somewhere. That where will depend on their discipline more than anything else moving forward.

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Dave Rennie's Wallabies are not lost or aimless, they're on a road to somewhere

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