The Breakdown: Five Things we learned from #ENGvAUS

Rugby World Cup
by Iain Payten

The Wallabies were one-dimensional against a prepared England, Eddie Jones has a shot at the Cup, sad farewells to Wallaby veterans and who are the stars of tomorrow?

What are we talking about after the Wallabies' quarter-final exit?

MORE CRASH THAN CRASH-THROUGH

All week English players and coaches said it; so often, the talking point became transparent.

“Australia are a very clever side”. “The Wallabies have always been very smart." "They’re unpredictable.”

And then the quarter-final kicked off and … they weren’t. Not even close.

The 2019 Wallabies are equipped with plenty of clever guys but the 24-point defeat to England was built on the fact Australia’s tactics being purely and utterly predictable.  

They ran the ball all night and an untroubled England swallowed them up whole.


Under Michael Cheika, the Wallabies have attempted to play the game a different way from many in the world. They have run and passed from every point on the field, and deliberately not kicked, and prided themselves on that. Cheika has not even tried to hide it, saying before the Georgia game about a tactical kicking game: “I am not sure we have one of those.”

It’s admirable in some ways but the danger of that strategy is that it is one-dimensional.

And up against a powerful defence, and a smart coach, such as they faced in England, the Wallabies have routinely played into their rivals’ hands.

As seen in Oita, they provide as much danger to themselves as they did the opposition, particularly when trying to exit their own quarter with high-risk, high-paced passing. Or the odd chip kick.

And when trying to always push wide on attack, and seek out low percentage-high yield passes or offloads.

Time and again in the last four years, the Wallabies have been their own worst enemies and the England loss encapsulated the World Cup cycle in a nutshell.

One speculative pass allowed Marika Koroibete to score, but three others were intercepted, and two tries were given away. 

England weren’t surprised by anything the Wallabies did. They’d seen it before, and overcome it before.

The only change Eddie Jones has had to make to his gameplan against Australia from the previous six wins was to remove the dust from the cover of the folder.

He knew what the Wallabies would do and prepared accordingly.

England kicked the ball deep into Australia territory and backed their defence. They defended patiently and with good muscle, and sweated on mistakes, knowing they would come. 

Jones held court at his midweek presser, talking expansively about samurais, finishers, warriors and life.

But when asked if Cheika’s habit of playing poker with his cards face up made the Wallabies predictable, and more easily beatable, Jones shut down. 

 “I don’t have an opinion on that,” he said.

He did, of course, and always has done. Like Steve Hansen, Jones has used Cheika’s attacking ambitions against him for the last four years.


Some coaches plan to win by whatever means are necessary. 

Cheika has encouraged his players to play one way only, but there’ve been far too many in the way of crash, and not nearly enough of the crash through. 

Cheika has a 50% win record in 69 Tests, and it drops even lower against tier one sides. His players love him and there’ve been brilliant moments, but the amount of lows bury all that in totality.

Cheika didn’t want to talk about his future after the match but on win-loss alone the return is not good enough for retention, even if he wanted to stay.

There will be a new Wallabies coach at the helm next year.

EDDIE'S EXCELLENT ENGLAND

Eddie Jones has a team to challenge New Zealand, and whisper it quietly, to maybe even win the World Cup.

In all the key areas, Jones has quality operators.

His captain and no.10 Owen Farrell is a kicking genius, and is underrated in attack as well. His game management is, arguably, peerless is world rugby at the moment.

Ben Youngs is a very sharp halfback inside him, and outside, there is power and pace with Manu Tuilagi, Jonny May, the elusive Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly.


The tight forwards are tough and there is something special brewing in England’s young back row.

Up against Pocock and Hooper, Sam Underhill and Tom Curry - or the “Cunderhill” - were immense against Australia.

The positive for Australia in all that? 

Many of those guys were part of England’s 2015 Rugby World Cup squad, who bombed out big time.

They’ve re-emerged as a confident, efficient outfit in the last four years, under excellent coaching. 

Australia has talent in spades, too. Re-builds can happen quickly.

JORDY SURE CAN PLAY

If you want a reason to be hopeful about the next few years, just go and watch Jordan Petaia’s all-too-brief touches against England in Oita.

You try not to get too carried away with Jordy-mania but yet again the teenager showed he can step up to any occasion. In his first run at centre in a Test, Petaia looked like a guy in his 20th run at centre in a Test.

Yet again he showed an inability to be daunted by the biggest stages.

Petaia is on a four-year contract, through to 2022. Injury-free, the 19-year-old will be a star in no time at all. If he’s not already.

FAREWELL TO SOME GOOD MEN

There are a lot of raw emotions after a team exits a World Cup, and perhaps the saddest sight of all is when veteran stars bow out in such gut-wrenching circumstances.

There are now slow laps of honour with kids in their arms. Just pain and sadness.

Three stars, who’d confirmed their Test retirements before the tournament, felt that emptiness in Oita: David Pocock, Will Genia and Sekope Kepu.

Will Genia sat on the end of the Wallabies bench for a long time after full-time, with his head in his hands. Teammates consoled him, unsuccessfully. Playing for the Wallabies has always meant the world to Genia.

Pocock moved slowly around the field, shaking hands and eventually finding his wife Emma in the crowd.

Kepu had the extra anguish of not having his Test career finished while watching on the sidelines, after not being picked in the game.

All three men have been great servants to Australian rugby, over a decade or longer. All three are good men.

They go with our thanks and best wishes.

IS THAT 2023 ON THE HORIZON?

History shows you need a good rump of World Cup experience - and a few scars from the past - to win the William Webb Ellis Cup.

So who among the current Wallabies will be at the 2023 tournament in France?

Those who’ll be in the age bracket (or near enough) and who are committed to Australian rugby next year, are Scott Sio, Jordan Uelese, Folau Faingaa, Allan Alaalatoa, Taniela Tupou, Izack Rodda, Jack Dempsey, Lukhan Salakai-Loto, Michael Hooper, Isi Naisarani, Nic White, Matt Toomua, Jordan Petaia, Tevita Kuridrani, Marika Koroibete, Reece Hodge, James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale.


That’s 17 of 31.

Samu Kerevi has a three-year deal in Japan but could come back before the 2023 World Cup in France.

Throw in capped men on the fringes like Luke Jones, Pete Samu, Rob Valetini, Tom Banks, Jack Maddocks, Jake Gordon, Joe Powell, Tom Robertson and Harry Johnson-Holmes, and you have a core of players that can progress out of the 2019 World Cup heartache, with the right coaching and systems.

Bringing through the best of the Junior Wallabies will be a critical part of the picture, particularly in the no.10 roster. With Christian Lealiifano, Bernard Foley and Quade Cooper all now departed, Toomua remains the only experienced candidate.

There are younsgters in the pipeline, like Bayley Kuenzle, Will Harrison, Ben Donaldson, Isaac Lucas, and Noah Lolesio. And could schoolboy whiz Reesjan Pasitoa bolt from the blue via the Brumbies, Petaia-style?

Time will tell.