We answer the big questions to come out of the Australia vs England series.
1. Is it crisis time for the Wallabies?
Let’s get the kneejerk out of the way straight off. Three straight losses against England to start their Test season was not ideal for Australia. Looking at the three matches, though, the Wallabies had opportunities to win all of them and didn’t snatch them. While the result is obviously the most important measure, had line ball decisions from referees and players gone the Wallabies’ way, had they kicked more accurately in play and in front of goals, then we’re having a different conversation right now. Three-nil looks ugly, but it’s not the end for Cheika’s Wallabies.
2. Do the Wallabies have the right leadership?
The Wallabies came under fire for decisions at crucial times in all three Test matches. The national coaches backed their captains, in Stephen Moore and Michael Hooper to make the right decisions for their team each match. They will both have learned plenty from the last three weeks. Probably more pressing than picking the right option when you have a penalty is keeping a cool head with the referee. Limit the chat and bring in a little bit more tact. If Dylan Hartley can do it, anyone can. Building that referee relationship is crucial to ensuring 50-50 decisions remain that way. And that comes down to leadership.
3. Who do the Wallabies need back for the Bledisloe from Europe?
They’re all keen but not every European Wallaby should just walk back into a spot for the Bledisloe. Adam Ashley-Cooper and Drew Mitchell will face some competition to regain their World Cup spots. Debutant Dane Haylett-Petty was one of the best for Australia in the three-Test series against England and will not be surrendering that position easily, while Rob Horne was typically consistent on the opposite wing. Matt Giteau would be the obvious selection at 12, but his former Brumbies teammate Matt Toomua was outstanding in the third Test as well, so that could provide some sort of dilemma. Will Genia looms as the one most desperately needed, after mistakes from halfback Nick Phipps at critical times really hurt Australia. Phipps is one of the hardest workers in the side but with 42 Tests to his name, he needs to be on from minute one to 80.
4. Is Australia’s attacking style enough to be successful?
Ball in hand rugby is exciting to watch and when it works, it fills highlight reels for days. However, the Wallabies’ rigid commitment to that heavy attacking style cost them at times in the series. Cheika admitted after the third Test that they could potentially look at kicking more. The real challenge, though, is adaptability. England adapted in the second Test as soon as they saw the weather forecast. Australia needs to find a balance between spectacular, fan-friendly rugby and the context in which they play. With dual playmakers in the third Test they looked more flexible and that will be the structure they stick with for the Rugby Championship.
5. Who will be the Wallabies’ Bledisloe second row?
The answer to this question will be, to a major extent, answered in this Friday’s clash between the Reds and the Brumbies, with Kane Douglas set to return from injury. Douglas was sorely missed during the England series and in the 65 minutes of the World Cup final he was forced to watch. The abrasive lock has been back in training, joining the Wallabies on camp, and will be up against two recently capped locks in Sam Carter and Rory Arnold this weekend. Rob Simmons looms as the best option to team with Douglas, the technical yin to his physical yang, though if they do team up it would be the first time in a year with Simmons suffering a shoulder injury against England.