A Brutally Honest Assessment Of The Wallabies' World Cup Campaign
In three words, they were terrible.
Listening to Network 10 sports presenter, commentator and 1999 Rugby World Cup winner Matt Burke in commentary in Australia's quarter final against England in Oita at the Rugby world Cup on Saturday evening, you could hear the frustration in his voice.
There is no more passionate supporter of the Wallabies and the game of rugby itself than Burkey, but the legendary fullback at times appeared exasperated at the Wallabies' lack of composure in key moments.
In this, he was not alone. Every Australian rugby fan took that same roller coaster ride of hope, then disappointment, then hope, then disappointment, this tournament. Although in truth, there was a whole lot more disappointment than hope, so it's hardly appropriate in this instance to drag out the old sports cliché of a roller coaster, because the Wallabies RWC 2019 campaign felt more like one big slide.
At no point, except perhaps when they stepped off the plane, did the Wallabies look like potential World Cup winners. But as soon as they got anywhere near a rugby field, the illusion was quickly shattered, and their stuttering brand of rugby seemed as ill-suited to the modern world as Michael Cheika's vintage blazer.
Post Rexit, the blame game is now in full swing. Cheika has quit, and many are now taking aim at the Rugby Australia board for not pushing him earlier. It was CEO Raelene Castle and chairman Cameron Clyne who were behind a review process that decided to stick strong with Cheika through to this World Cup.
In terms of team harmony, you can see how they arrived at that decision, as Cheika remained an extremely popular figure with many current Wallabies.
"He’s been amazing for me and I know a lot of players would say the same thing in the squad, he wants to win more than anyone he’s been great for this country," Wallabies captain Michael Hooper said after the defeat on Saturday night.
"A special man. I’ve really enjoyed being back in the setup with him. His faith and belief in me is something I’ll cherish for a long time.” Wllabies flyhalf Christian Lealiifano told Network 10 reporter Jono Williams in Japan.
As Williams points out, Lealiifano is forever indebted to Cheika after his international recall this year, after he fought back from leukaemia.
But while Cheika had excellent relationships with many players, his results for the last two years were by any measure below par. In 2018, the Wallabies won just four of 13 Tests -- an historical low.
But Castle and Clyne pressed on. Nothing to see here. How they kept faith in a man which Castle rarely even spoke to (as we learned overnight) defies belief. But keep the faith they did.
For one beautiful moment the faith seemed justified. The Wallabies had that one beautiful night in Perth in August, when they smashed the All Blacks 47-26. But the rest of their season wavered between mediocre and dire. What looked like a recovery was a blip. The ascending graph became a flatline.
And when they got to RWC 2019, the Wallabies played exactly like a team that had been fodder for better teams over much of the past two years of international rugby.
They struggled against Fiji and were actually down at halftime.
They looked OK against Uruguay, but so do most teams in any sport that's not soccer.
They lost to Wales, which was not in itself shameful, as Wales were world number one earlier this year, and are now into the RWC 2019 semis, but the Wallabies' slow start was the sign of a team that just wasn't switched on.
And then they struggled to beat Georgia, a country most Australians would fail to locate on a world map. The Georgians should have been Tbilisi beats (there's your pun for the day). They were not.
Then came the England came. The Wallabies started well. For about five minutes they were full of purpose and executed well. Then came the execution. Before you knew it, England had scored two wonderful tries and were up 14-3. The Wallabies might have well have hopped on a gleaming sponsor's jet right at that moment.
It ended up 40-16. But there was a greater insult than the scoreline in store.
Japan, briefly, was ranked higher than us in the world rankings. That's right. Japan was officially better at rugby than Australia. That's how low we sunk.
Japan have been the story of this tournament so far, dispatching Scotland and Ireland and topping their group. Their scintillating rugby will be talked about for years.
While Japan were knocked out in the quarters by South Africa overnight, the Brave Blossoms -- as they are amusingly known -- still briefly ascended to number six in the world on Sunday, with the Wallabies at eight.
Rankings reversed again overnight, and Australia edged above them. But does anyone really believe Australia is a greater rugby power than Japan right now? Say no more. Change must happen in Australian rugby. Fast. A monumental clean-out must occur.
As for the rest of this tournament, this has now become an event for the sporting purists, rather than those who watch sport with a pair of green-and-gold tinted goggles.
New Zealand, in any given year, are the world's best team, and are playing like it right now. But South Africa, England and Wales are all playing brilliantly too. There are many reasons to watch the rest of this tournament on Network 10, and this comes from the heart of a sports fan, not a company man.
Here's hoping the Wallabies watch it too. They might learn a thing or two about how to play topline rugby.