When the full-time siren sounded at Newcastle’s McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday night, the Wallabies Tri Nations fate had all but been confirmed.
Barring a miraculous 101-point win over the Pumas this weekend, the All Blacks’ 38-0 win will see them almost certainly claim the title. The tournament’s hosts will instead have to wait at least one more year to win their first major trophy since 2015.
But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing on the line this weekend.
While I admit it’s a sporting cliché to say that pride is on the line for the Wallabies, and even though that’s true, they’re also out to avoid unwanted history.
After years of substandard results, 2020 was supposed to be the year that they began to turn it all around.
“Rugby has had this perception in Australia that it’s a private school sport, only for rich pompous kids and things like that and we need to change that.”@Wallabies centurion Will Genia looks to the future in his first column for The XV.https://t.co/KfERk5Icsh
— The XV (@TheXV) November 25, 2020
The Wallabies used to be a powerhouse of the sport, and had a knack for bouncing back and causing leading nations trouble irrespective of their form in the weeks, months and years before a test.
Under Cheika they reached a World Cup final in 2015, a year after going one from four during the November internationals.
But after the surprising result at the World Cup, which capped off an 83.33 percent win rate that year, cracks began to appear. The Wallabies won just 44.23 percent of their matches from 2016 through to the end of the World Cup in Japan.
That wasn’t good enough.
Lacking direction and performance, Michael Cheika stepped down from his post, in the hope that somebody else could steer the Wallabies towards a better tomorrow.
Proven winner Dave Rennie was named as the new Wallabies coach earlier this year, bringing 16 uncapped players into his first squad to usher in the next generation of emerging talent.
But since he’s taken over, and after a promising Super Rugby AU season, the national side has instead taken a step backwards in terms of their winning record.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 26, 2020
The Wallabies have managed to win just one from five matches this year, now staring down the barrel of an historically poor year.
Being a young, inexperienced side that has fielded 10 debutants this year, results weren’t always expected right away. There have been some breakout performances both by the team and individuals, which is certainly positive as the team towards the next World Cup.
But a loss this weekend would see them finished with the worst winning percentage of any Wallabies team in the professional era, with the most recent team with a worse annual rating dating back to 1974. That year, they didn’t win a match from three tests.
Drawing two matches has also hurt the Wallabies too, having drawn to the All Blacks in Wellington and Pumas in Newcastle.
Even though they’ve had a shortened test season, percentage-wise the 2020 squad would even rank lower than the 2005 side that lost seven in a row – ending the streak with a win over Ireland.
That being said, the hosts do go into the final Tri Nations match at Western Sydney’s Bankwest Stadium as the favourites.
If they win, their record would rise to two wins from six, which is a 33.33 percent winning rate.
Should that happen, they wouldn’t even rank as the worst side over the past 10 years, with that then being the 2018 side that fell to a four from 13 record (30.77 percent).
So make no mistake, this is the Wallabies’ most important test week in the professional era.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 23, 2020
Yes, they’ve made three World Cup finals since the sport turned professional, but that was when the sport was thriving.
Now with their back up against the ropes, not only do the Wallabies need to win to prevent an unwanted historical mark on the year, but Saturday may prove to be a pivotal moment in the sports sustainment Down Under. While the sport has continued to thrive at a private school level, it has struggled elsewhere in the past when compared to other codes.
But the success of Super Rugby AU has been huge for the sport.
The competition has brought State versus State rivalries to the forefront of the code, and fans have welcomed the innovation of the competition. OzTAM reported that 69,000 people watched the opening match between the Reds and Waratahs, while 62,000 fans also watched the Brumbies versus Reds regular season match (these figures don’t include Kayo).
Under COVID-19 restrictions, a promising number of supporters have also attended matches, which was capped off with a full house of 6000 fans at the Super Rugby AU grand final in Canberra.
Following a test season that has had some promising performance, even though the results haven’t been there, finishing on a high note is everything at the moment.
A win against the Pumas on Saturday would definitely help steer the sport from unwanted history and instead towards future success Down Under as a young Wallabies squad continue to build towards a better tomorrow.
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now