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State of the union

Richard Withers wonders where this crop of Wallabies is going wrong

The loss of influential scrum-half Will Genia has hurt the Wallabies in recent weeks. Photo: FoxSports
The loss of influential scrum-half Will Genia has hurt the Wallabies in recent weeks. Photo: FoxSports

Australia’s dour, face-saving victory in wet conditions against Argentina in Rosario was one of few memorable moments in an arduous season for the Wallabies.

That they finished second in The Rugby Championship is a worthy achievement considering the farcical number of injuries sustained prior to and during the campaign. For a crop of players once briefly tipped by daring pundits to be favourites in time for the 2015 World Cup in England and Wales, things aren’t exactly going as planned.

While injuries have played their part, a disappointing Super Rugby season for Australian sides offered early indications that the ever-dominant All Blacks were never likely to lose their grip on the Bledisloe Cup.

This season’s mixture of heavy losses and narrow wins (Australia remarkably averaged a winning margin of 4.5 points over six tests) have enabled Australia to cling to their ranking as the second best team in the world. And while this ability to grind out results is not only admirable but crucial to success, it’s the lack of a single convincing win this season that will have spectators concerned.

In Australia’s six test victories, their biggest winning margin was by 8 points in the first test against Wales back in June. Regardless of their injury woes, the lackluster 23-19 win against Argentina would have done very little to satisfy the 22,000 in attendance at Gold Coast’s Skilled Park. But it could have been much worse, and very nearly was.

After being hailed a foreign messiah, Robbie Deans will be keeping his visa safely tucked away as voices for his removal gather into a chorus. The miracles he worked with the Canterbury Crusaders are becoming a distant memory and his tactics (particularly Australia’s ineffective kicking game) and relationship with Wallabies players have been scrutinised.

It seemed to be highlighted when Quade Cooper took to Twitter to level claims that the Wallabies camp is a ‘toxic’ environment, condemning their ‘boring’ style of play. And while the enigmatic playmaker’s confusing rant asked more questions than it answered, the potential loss of the star 24-year-old to a rival code wasn’t part of the script written for this young Wallabies side.

The ARU wanted Australia to be the No.1 team in the world by now, but every step taken since mid-2011 has been a backward one. The fitness of Australian teams was lamented as a key factor in their Super Rugby efforts this year, and opposition tactics in slowing down Wallabies ball suggests that this current group need to reinvent themselves to achieve the successes we expected of them. With the European tour fast approaching, the Wallabies will be looking to take their first step back onto the path we all expected them to follow.