Hollow Test season spells end of Dave Rennie’s Wallabies honeymoon – The Guardian

The honeymoon is over for Dave Rennie, who is now the only Wallabies coach in the professional era to win just one Test in his first calendar year in the job.

After losing the Bledisloe Cup for the 18th consecutive year, the Wallabies collected the wooden spoon in the Tri-Nations tournament – the first time they have done so when Argentina has been involved.

To be fair, the Wallabies only played six Tests due to coronavirus pandemic, half as many as they would normally play – and four of those were against the All Blacks.

But the Bledisloe Cup/Tri-Nations series were played in a trans-Tasman bubble, which meant four of the six Tests were played on Australian soil. Still, Australia could win only one, albeit an upset over New Zealand.

Rennie’s Wallabies produced one win, two losses and three draws against the All Blacks and Argentina. The season was bookended by two draws, a 16-16 with the All Blacks in Wellington and another 16-16 with Argentina at Bankwest Stadium on Saturday night.

What started with a moral victory in Wellington ended in moral defeat in Parramatta after another season of false dawns, false hopes and bitter disappointment for Australian fans.

The happiest person on the field after last Saturday’s game appeared to be former Wallabies coach turned Argentina consultant Michael Cheika, who hugged all of the Pumas after they pulled together following the dramatic suspension of captain Pablo Matera.

At the death of each of the Wallabies’ three draws – the third was a 15-15 with Argentina in Newcastle – utility back Reece Hodge attempted to break the stalemate with a match-winning penalty goal. Three times he missed.

You have to feel for Hodge, but it was symptomatic of a team which either no longer believe they can win or do not know how.

While Hodge looked distraught after last night’s 78th-minute miss, it should never have come down to that.

The most concerning aspect of the Wallabies’ performance was that they did not appear to have learnt anything from their first Test against the Pumas two weeks ago.

Once again the hosts dominated first-half possession and territory and failed to convert that pressure into points.

Captain Michael Hooper was heavily criticised for passing up first-half shots at penalty goal in Newcastle and he did so again on Saturday, which suggests the decision to kick for touch came from the top.

At first, it looked as if the Wallabies were intent on scoring tries to produce the 101 points they needed to prise the Tri-Nations trophy from the All Blacks’ grasp. It turned out to be no more than a strategic error.

Reece Hodge
Reece Hodge after missing what would have been a match-winning penalty goal. Photograph: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

To beat Argentina points must be accumulated points and scoreboard pressure maintained, to force Mario Ledesma’s side into an uncomfortable game of catch-up.

Allow the Pumas to make a good start and you will find yourself in a similar situation to Australia – trailing 13-6 at half-time.

Three points are even more valuable in wet weather, and the

Wallabies, at least in the first half, did not adjust their game plan to suit the conditions.

Bashing and barging in the forwards did not breach the strong Argentine defence as the backs continued to run across field, nullified by the Pumas’ slide defence.

Even with five-eighth James O’Connor returning from injury, there was little imagination or variety in attack.

Rennie’s outfit struggled to transfer the ball through the hands of non-ball-playing centres Hunter Paisami and Jordan Petaia to strike weapons Marika Koroibete and Tom Wright on the wings.

The only time they used an inside ball to try and counteract the Pumas’ drift defence was in the 11th minute when O’Connor turned it back inside to Hodge but lost it near the line.

The Wallabies’ attack was otherwise predictable, allowing the Pumas to make an enormous amount of tackles. In the end, their only try, via Hooper, came from a rolling maul from a five-metre lineout.

Australia’s ill-discipline also recurred when replacement forward Lukhan Salakaia-Loto was red-carded for a high tackle on Santiago Grondona.

Rennie admitted the Wallabies have “a long way to go”. He was certainly right about that. While no one should be calling for his head after six Tests, there should be a thorough review of selections, strategies and tactics.

If Australian rugby one step in the right direction amid a season of missteps it was Saturday’s pre-match rendition of

Advance Australia Fair in the Indigenous Eora language, which must surely become a permanent part of the national anthem.

It was wonderful to see the gesture from the Wallabies, who were wearing their First Nations jerseys; it was just unfortunate their performance on the field was less inspiring.

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