The Wallabies’ 2017 season is done and dusted, with Australia ending the year with seven wins, two draws and five losses.
What can we make of the Wallabies’ season?
Bledisloe Three, Brisbane
The Wallabies' 23-18 win over New Zealand put a jolt of optimism into Australian rugby that it desperately needed. Admittedly, this turned out to be short-lived, but the result at Suncorp Stadium showed the potential of this Wallabies team, against the most formidable of foes.
Bledisloe One, Sydney
The first game of the Rugby Championship put a black cloud over the Wallabies for a second straight year. With so much emotional investment in the Bledisloe a first-up loss put Australia on the back foot and made the trophy all but out of reach. Their final Test loss to Scotland would be a close second, the second in two record defeats in as many weeks for Australia.
Kurtley Beale certainly made an impact since coming back from England, but Will Genia is basically the Wallabies’ most valuable player. He straightens out the attack and delivers crisp service on a consistent basis. His presence has also seemingly helped his understudy Nick Phipps, who has found form in the back end of the year for the Wallabies, albeit seeing only a handful of minutes. Israel Folau is up there, too, nominated for World Rugby’s Player of the Year, but Genia is the man that makes the Wallabies tick.
Michael Hooper consistently sets the bar at an incredible height for each of is teammates. Yellow cards aside, especially given they’re often the result of repeated infringements, Hooper leads the way as captain, but also in his never-say-die efforts on the field. He was the man chasing down a rampaging Sean Maitland when the Scot was all but over the line on Sunday morning (AEDT), an end-of-season effort that typifies why he is so highly valued. Adam Coleman, when fit, would be up there as well, while Scott Sio has rediscovered some of his better form as the year has gone on. Sean McMahon’s efforts after injury have only served to prove exactly how badly he will be missed in 2018.
Under the radar
The Wallabies backline receives plenty of plaudits, but Tevita Kuridrani is one who rarely features in the spotlight. And yet, he’s effectively Michael Cheika’s most-relied upon player, having racked up 50 Tests in just under four seasons. His finishing ability makes him incredibly valuable, while he is super reliable in defence. Make no mistake, this man is critical to Australia’s success.
Rookie of the year
Rodda has made a habit of taking his opportunities and his first crack at Test level was no different. Given a chance after an injury to Lukhan Tui, and then the late scratching of Adam Coleman, Rodda never looked out of place. Perhaps the greatest endorsement of the 21-year-old is that in a whirlwind debut, against New Zealand in Dunedin, he looked like he belonged.
Koroibete was parachuted into last year’s Spring Tour squad, just months after playing in an NRL grand final with the Melbourne Storm, just an observer of the national fold. Fast forward a year and he has become an incredibly dangerous Wallabies winger, both in attack and defence. Bringing genuine pace, something Australia has severely lacked, he adds X-Factor and his defensive work has improved out of sight.
Try of the year
Israel Folau vs Scotland
It was a hark back to his rugby league days - and in some ways his brief AFL dalliance - when Israel Folau leapt up in the Allianz Stadium corner against Scotland. A pinpoint cross-field kick from Bernard Foley went Folau’s way and the fullback jumped into the air, took the mark and landed in the corner. Samu Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani added some of their own highlights to the mix against Japan, but Folau’s still sticks out almost six months later.
Timani had a sensational early run of Tests last year, repeatedly bending the line against Argentina in a particularly memorable performance. The backrower has been in and out of the Wallabies side this season, struggling to find that same kind of form. Fitness and the form of players like Sean McMahon - and the next generation as well - has pushed Timani down the pecking order. Cheika clearly still rates him and he showed more promise against Scotland but he will want to take a step up next season.
What needs to change for 2018?
The margins. The Wallabies have developed a ‘no excuses’ culture, but they need to ensure they’re not in situations where they can find excuses. Even after a red carding in Edinburgh, the Wallabies seemingly lacked the willlingness to go the extra mile, with a few exceptions, belying the grit they have shown in other matches. Talk of consistency of effort and intensity is often trotted out during, but action is what they need to show in 2018.
Goal kicking is also an issue. Bernard Foley has been the mainstay, but his shots at goal are becoming increasingly patchy. After kicking 19 in a row leading into the second Bledisloe, Foley battled for accuracy in that match and has delivered some shocking goal attempts. Though it hasn’t been the difference in most occasions, it’s something that surely needs to be addressed, especially with an alternative in Reece Hodge, who is improving by the day.
The critical period will be the next six months, because the Wallabies can’t afford to come into a June Series against Ireland at anything less than their peak.
Sevens wins, two draws, five losses
Australia 37 - Fiji 14
Australia 19 - Scotland 24
Australia 40 - Italy 27
Australia 34 - New Zealand 54
New Zealand 35 - Australia 29
Australia 23 - South Africa 23
Australia 45 - Argentina 20
South Africa 27 - Australia 27
Argentina 20 - Australia 37
Third Bledisloe Test
Australia 23 - New Zealand 18
Japan 30 - Australia 63
Wales 21 - Australia 29
England 30 - Australia 6
Scotland 53 - Australia 24