Sport Union Rugby World Cup: Wallabies must refocus to make an impact
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Rugby World Cup: Wallabies must refocus to make an impact

Wallabies rugby world cup
Work to do: Australian coach Michael Cheika at Wallabies training. Photo: Getty
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The understatement of the Rugby World Cup week goes to Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, who said: “I think we were a bit off the pace in the first half.”

A more accurate description would be that against Uruguay the Wallabies put on their dumbest 40 minutes since, well, take your pick – maybe since they were whipped 53-24 by Scotland two years ago.

Perhaps it’s part of a cunning coach Cheika plan to lull Eddie Jones into complacency.

Perhaps he thinks Jones will feel sorry for the poor Wallabies after this and rest his best England XV for the quarter-final. Possibly not.

A 12-5 penalty count, two yellow cards, headless chooks around the breakdown, lacking purpose or plan, yet again taking half the game to collectively wake up, it can only be called dreadful.

It looked like Cheika was being deadly serious when he said after the Welsh game that he didn’t know the rules any more.

Unfortunately it’s his job to make sure his players do and avoid any problems.

Pointing to the final score of 45-10 can’t discount the warning of the scoreboard of 7-3 after more than a quarter of the match.

The Wallabies were worse in this first half against much weaker opposition than they were against Wales – and they were behind 23-8 to the Welsh after 40 minutes.

I’ve seen subdistricts sides with more smarts and organisation and certainly more precise schoolboy games.

What’s frustrating is knowing that the Wallabies are capable of being so much better.

Where is the focused team that played the All Blacks in Perth?

The team that was better than Wales for 50 minutes must be switched on for 80 minutes.

Australians want the team that can beat England in the quarter-final and find some luck thereafter. Anything like the mindset from Saturday going forward and they may as well go home now.

Much of the immediate domestic commentary tried to look to the couple of positives and downplay the overall game as not mattering.

That does nobody any favours, particularly when the two most promising features of the game stood out because of the serious problems they might solve.

Yes, young Jordan Petaia’s debut was exciting – the promise of an elusive, quick, instinctive outside back.

A fresh unpredictable winger would make a dangerous back three along with Dane Haylett-Petty at 15 and Marika Koroibete.

One problem perhaps solved.

Admittedly Jack Dempsey looked good running the ball. He could solve part of Australia’s main problem in the forwards – only having one class backrower.

Captain Michael Hooper has been carrying a heavy burden at seven when little has been coming from six and five.

It’s sad to say that David Pocock, outstanding player that he has been for Australia and might be again for his Japanese club, has been the biggest disappointment for Wallabies fans with near-zero impact on the field.

Australia beat a determined Uruguay, but more work is required. Photo: Rugby Australia/Twitter

On what we’ve seen, Dempsey did enough on Saturday to win either the six or eight jersey.

There’s nothing inspiring about who takes the third spot to balance the threat of England’s backrow.

And then there are the halves yet to be sorted. Must be time to give Matt To’omua a run as the starting five-eighth against Georgia as the position is still not owned.

Looking to the pressure England will bring, at half it’s the slower but less-flappable and more experienced Will Genia over the more fragile Nick White off the bench later.

The good news is that the tight five are doing well and Samu Kerevi can carry the centres pairing with depth from the bench across those seven positions.

Remember England isn’t perfect either. On its best efforts so far, the All Blacks and South Africa are the top two sides but then a sizeable drop in standard to England being a smidge ahead of the rest.

Yet it’s Japan that is playing the best rugby to watch.

Japan-Samoa was the match of the round, as Japan-Scotland is likely to be next weekend.

Unless, unless … England v France Saturday evening. Viva la France! Allez les Bleus! Go the Roosters! (Or was that the rugby league?)

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