Since Dave Rennie took over, the Wallabies have been touted as a team for the future, rather than a team for today.

ADVERTISEMENT

Still, they shocked the rugby world with a valiant 16-all draw against the All Blacks in Wellington a month ago, and came within inches of stealing the win that day as well.

It got people talking – especially Down Under. Suddenly, the Wallabies’ time was now.

Video Spacer

Video Spacer
Dave Rennie and Michael Hooper speak after the 43-5 loss to the All Blacks in Sydney.

The Wallabies have made numerous changes in the wake of last year’s World Cup that has seen them step in the right direction – none more so than the appointment of Rennie as head coach.

He’s a winner, and that might just pay off for the men in green and gold down the track.

However, rugby’s small resurgence in Australia took a step backwards as the All Blacks dominated their rivals in Bledisloe II and III.

The second test was an indication of how there was in fact, still a gap between the trans-Tasman opponents, but it wasn’t until last Saturday’s clash in Sydney that we got an idea of just how significant the difference really is – and that shocked people.

ADVERTISEMENT

Following the 38-point loss, fans immediately got the impression that despite all the promise and expectation hanging over Rennie and the new crop of up-and-coming talent, they were set for more of the same going forward.

Rennie said post-match that inexperience wasn’t to blame, but when you compare them to the blueprint of the current world champions, it’s not hard to argue otherwise.

One team the Wallabies won’t get the chance to test themselves against this year is South Africa, a team they couldn’t be split from three years ago. The two teams were so evenly matched, they drew in both of their meetings in Perth and Bloemfontein.

Two years later, the Springboks claimed a once-unlikely World Cup crowd in Japan. The Wallabies, meanwhile, continue to struggle in big games, and their world number seven ranking reflects that.

ADVERTISEMENT

That doesn’t mean the past can’t or hasn’t offered Rennie and his side any proven methods on how to drastically improve. If anything, South Africa’s success is a template for the Wallabies to replicate; a checklist.

Two years out from the 2019 Rugby World Cup, South Africa were blown out by New Zealand during the Rugby Championship – similar to the Wallabies performance in Bledisloe II, except worse.

The Springboks suffered the heaviest defeat in their history, with the men in black running in eight tries to none to win 57-0. The loss followed the Springboks’ 41-13 loss to New Zealand the year before.

In December of that year, Rassie Erasmus came in as director of rugby to help turn South African rugby around. Soon after, he replaced Allister Coetzee as head coach, named as the caretaker for the national side.

Erasmus introduced a selection policy where players were picked on merit as opposed to reputation, which isn’t too different to how we’ve seen the Wallabies line up in their three tests this year.

In Australia’s case, a new coach has opened the door for a fresh group of talented players to get their chance in green and gold. For too long in the Michael Cheika era, the Wallabies kept selecting players based on their reputation and past performances.

Kurtley Beale and Bernard Foley both had exciting moments in the gold jersey, with the latter awarded player of the match in the historic pool clash against England at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

But both of their careers in the national setup lasted too long considering their form.

Under Rennie, though, the tide is beginning to change.

So far, he’s managed to find the balance between form and experience relatively well, and Bledisloe I was a glimpse of how that could pay off. Harry Wilson, Filipo Daugunu and Irae Simone have all made their debuts after breakout seasons in Super Rugby.

I would argue, though, that Rob Simmons, while experienced, is a player who also fits the bill of reputation and past performances, and is an exception to the otherwise exciting approach that Rennie has taken with his squad.

Don’t look at results here either, it didn’t work from the get-go for Erasmus.

The Springboks didn’t get off to a red-hot start right away, losing two tests in a row to Argentina and Australia before claiming a historic win over the All Blacks in Wellington.

They had 25 percent possession throughout the contest, and were made to make to make 226 tackles in order to earn the emotional 36-34 victory.

In 2019, they backed it up with a 16-all draw, also in Wellington. The Springboks had introduced a fresh culture in the squad which saw them go from being a team making up the numbers, to world-beaters.

Miracles just can’t be expected right away.

So while the Wallabies are actually following in South Africa’s footsteps relatively nicely, here’s how they’ve become unstuck.

Surprise, surprise, it’s the quality of ‘experienced’ players that they have to rely on with such a young squad.

When South Africa lost to the All Blacks in 2017, they had a wealth of experience in the squad which steered them in the right direction.

The likes of Eben Etzebeth, Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira and future World Rugby Player of the Year Peter-Steph du Toit helped lead the resurgence.

Australia’s starting backline in Bledisloe III only had 18 more test caps collectively than All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith, and their most experienced starting back was Dane Haylett-Petty, who has 37 caps to his name.

Noah Lolesio, who started at flyhalf on Saturday, had only played three Super Rugby AU games before being thrown into the test arena.

Inexperience was always expected of the Wallabies this year, however, after the success of the Junior Wallabies at last year’s World Rugby U20 Championship in Argentina.

With so many players heading abroad following last year’s World Cup, great results never should’ve been expected this early on.

As Rennie also said following the 43-5 loss, “we’re five or six weeks into a four-year campaign.”

While the result might give off the impression that improvement is an unachievable dream for fans who have stuck by their team for 18 long years, it’s coming.

Just like the Springboks when they got blown out by the All Blacks, how the Wallabies respond is key.

As they continue to learn and gain experience and confidence by playing, just like South Africa, the comprehensive loss might just be the best thing for Australian rugby three years out from the next World Cup.

Mailing List

Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.

Sign Up Now