The best teams play consistently well. Other teams can lift their games occasionally to match better rivals, but the effort takes its toll, resulting in inconsistency from week to week. The Wallabies lifted to beat the Boks, but looked tired when asked to repeat it in the semi-final. Ireland played above themselves to beat Australia, then were unable to repeat it against Wales. France lifted to beat England, then just scraped home against Wales despite playing with an extra man.
Against the All Blacks in the 2nd RWC semi-final, the Wallabies were woeful. Cooper, whose previous indiscretions had put him under enormous pressure, looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights.
Without a functioning fly-half, the team was rudderless.
They compounded this with missed tackles, dropped high balls, mis-directed kicks, and fumbles. The previous week's herculean defensive effort against the Boks had taken its toll. Although the All Blacks were excellent defensively, the Wallabies' constant errors gifted the Kiwis the game.
With the pressure lifted from them, we can only hope that Australia can produce their much admired running game in the consolation final against Wales next week.
Where to then?
Robbie Deans has had 4 years as Wallabies coach. It's time to move on. Ewan McKenzie is his obvious successor.
Peter De Villiers did the honourable thing when the Boks were knocked out of the RWC: he announced he was stepping down.
Deans is a coach with a talent for developing young players. He developed many superstars of the game during his time at the Crusaders. Then in Australia, Cooper, O’Connor, Beale, Pocock, Slipper, Simmons, Daley and others were fast-tracked at the expense of older players considered to be approaching their use-by date.
When Deans first became the Wallabies coach, several journalists attended his training sessions. One of them reported that the secret to Deans’s coaching is that there is no secret.
That’s the way the Wallabies have played ever since: no set moves, no obvious game plan, and no tactical nouse. There is no plan B when things go wrong because there is no plan A to start with. As Bob Dwyer observed, they rely on “wonder plays from the wonder boys”.
With so much talent at the Crusaders, this was very successful. But with the limited player resources of the Wallabies, a superior game plan is needed.
Deans is much admired as a man. If he wants to stay in Australia, the ARU should find him a job in player development, or as coach of a SuperRugby side. He has a lot to offer such a role.
As the post-mortems are held, however, far more important than simply changing the coach is to expand the Australian player base, which is just too small. Australian rugby does not have enough players to fill their super rugby teams, most of which are full of expatriots from across the ditch.
Radical change is necessary. The Parramatta NRL club offered to finance both the Parramatta union team and a Western Sydney Super rugby team operating out of Parramatta stadium. This was rebuffed by the ARU.
There are many league players who are interested in union, and it is time to say goodbye to the 100 year old schism between the two codes. Embrace the leagues clubs and get them on board. They have the player base, the elite development pathway, and the money that Australian rugby needs.
Something also needs to be done about New South Wales. Although it produces the bulk of Australia's home-grown rugby players, the NSWRU's gin-swilling rah-rah management and the petty-politicking and poor morale that results from it are a turn-off to many players and fans.
The Waratahs must be sold off to private enterprise.