If a week is a long time in sport, then a year must be a lifetime.
Australia are certainly finding that out in 2016, and are doing so the hard way, having just lost their fifth match in a row in horrific fashion, going down 42-8 on home turf to hated neighbours New Zealand.
Currently in the midst of their longest losing streak since 2005, when they lost seven matches in a row, it’s clear there is something hugely wrong with this Wallabies squad that just 10 months ago made the World Cup Final.
But what is it? Same squad, same head coach, just a few moths separating the two outfits, but a massive gulf in quality.
- The Cook Cup represents a huge dent in confidence
June’s Cook Cup came and blindsided the Aussies from nowhere, and a series which many Australians had 3-0 in their favour completely turning on its’ head and ending up 3 zip to England.
Going from a high like a World Cup decider to a low like being on the wrong end of a sweep is massive, almost as big a confidence hit as there can be in rugby union.
It’s clear that plenty of Wallabies as well as coach Chieka will be doubting themselves post the mid-year result, and that has carried over to The Rugby Championship.
- The forward pack is getting monstered
At its core, rugby union is a simple game, and between all the tactics flying around in the coaches’ box, sometimes physicality is the problem/answer.
Both of the Wallabies’ last two opponents, the English and the All Blacks, have both managed midfield superiority over the opposition, leading to good field position and allowing for quick ball which to build play off the back of.
It’s no secret that the Aussie forward pack aren’t the most talented ball runners – Sekope Kepu and Michael Hooper ranking among the best in that department – but even they have been poor so far this year in the offensive department.
- Australia are being dominated at the ruck
When you have a pilferer as talented as David Pocock, it becomes natural to lean on him and his talents at the breakdown. The problem for the Wallabies is their other loose forwards are far less proficient in this area.
Scott Fardy is a far more offence oriented set pieces specialist, and whilst Hooper cops a little much for his work at the ruck, his best is nowhere near the level of his eighth-man.
Both England and the New Zealanders have managed to effectively nullify the Pocock effect, forcing him to tackle and allowing him less time over the ball, and as a result, the Aussies have enjoyed far less time with the ball.
- Backline discipline has gone out the window
It’s hard to get your backline into the game when your forwards are not winning nor keeping the ball, but it also means that movements must be far crisper. That has unfortunately not been the case in 2016.
So far, neither the New South Wales connection of Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley, nor the WC connection of Will Genia and Foley has managed to keep order and discipline in their backline, with a lot of mindless attacks and standard movement along the line going on.
This fault lies also on Michael Chieka and backline/attack coach Stephen Larkham, who have failed to fix this problem in eight halves of footy this year. The writing really is on the wall when you have Australians wondering when Quade Cooper will be back.
- The set piece has jumped out the top story window and died
Whilst a traditionally sub-par scrum hasn’t been as terrible as in recent years, the Wallabies’ 2016 lineout more than makes up for it.
Four times on Saturday night the Australian's had their own throw picked, and not once did they manage the same on their opponents’. Despite winning more (10 to 9) than the Kiwis, this is not just unacceptable, it’s quite literally “unprofessional”.
Assistant coach Mario Ledesma’s piece play was last year the final missing puzzle piece to Australian success, and it seems as If he has not been trying this year. Mind you, he is not helped when he is given just two options to work with on the throw, with the benching of Scott Fardy.