One year from the World Cup and the Wallabies face an identity crisis.
It will be exactly a year before Dave Rennie’s men travel to the Stade de France against Georgia on Friday and it is against the backdrop of Saturday’s tasteless performance that the Wallabies’ 24-8 defeat must be viewed.
Stream over 50 sports live and on demand with Kayo. New to Kayo? Start your free trial now >
Sadly, and worryingly, the ghosts of 2019 seem all too real.
From the style Rennie wants his men to play who will be in France for the 10th World Cup, questions and mystery hang over the Wallabies like a great fog in what promises to be the most competitive and gripping tournament of the game’s history.
This is a major concern because any team that aspires to go further in the tournament has a clear identity on how they want to play and who their key leaders are.
France face their talismanic general at half-back Antoine Dupont and have leaders littered on the pitch.
Ireland, who remain heavily reliant on Johnny Sexton, are masters of phased play and regularly attack the blindside and manipulate defenses while putting on a questionable kicking game between the 22s.
England find their way but resort to brutality when the push is felt, while the Springboks squeeze opposition with questionable kicks and a rushing defense that forces attacks to crumble before leaping like a circled shark when they smell blood in the water.
New Zealand, meanwhile, realize that they win most often when they kick to regain possession.
What do the Wallabies currently represent?
They want to have a three-pronged attack but their attacking spread is often a mess, their pack can be run like Ireland when they’re a fraction of the way like they were on Saturday when they’re regularly caught between want to use the ball and kick off from Nic White.
Without Quade Cooper, Rennie wants to take on White, whose kicking game and tempo are highly valued by selectors, but in times when competitions are paramount, the Wallabies choose outside full-backs who are better with their feet than in the air.
For example, the immediate effect Canan Moodie had when the 19-year-old snatched a ball from the sky and scored a superb try to put the Springboks in front at half-time.
Last month it was Freddie Steward, the phenomenal fullback who regularly won the ball in the air to show what attacking aerial play can do.
Meanwhile, game-breakers Suliasi Vunivalu and Jordan Petaia – the two best outside backs in the air – were either brutally dropped or denied opportunities.
Vunivalu was played off the bench in Sydney against England for a few seconds but is told he may have to wait for the Spring Tour before returning.
Marika Koroibete took three years to become a world-class winger but Vunivalu, a winger with an incredible ceiling and someone with a proven big game in the NRL, is starved of crucial action with a World Cup that fast approaching.
Tate McDermott is Australia’s finest half-back, someone who makes opposition defenses stare at him instead of those around him, but has been given precious minutes to prove his worth.
The ridiculous “rotation” policy Rennie operates with regarding his backup nine doesn’t help anyone as neither McDermott nor Jake Gordon have been able to show off their skills.
Reece Hodge is an admirable player at full-back but was not considered one of the top three full-backs just two months ago.
It comes after seven years of not knowing what Hodge represents as a player, with the harsh reality that he is a superb bench option, capable of playing from the full backline, but unlikely a class back option world.
If he is considered a fullback, Hodge should be able to prove his worth in the role without being transferred to the role of playmaker.
In the meantime, he is denying others like specialist full-back Jock Campbell – a player highly regarded in various rugby circles, including attacking coach Scott Wisemantel – an opportunity.
Michael Hooper is the usual captain, but the skipper has not been seen in the Rugby League since leaving Argentina on the eve of the first whistle.
Whether or not Hooper will return in the next few months remains to be seen.
The Wallabies would welcome the 30-year-old back with open arms, but it’s entirely conceivable that he could give up the captaincy.
After captaining the Wallabies or the Waratahs, or both, since 2014, Hooper may well be willing to return without the added responsibilities of captain. Whether or not Hooper retains the captaincy, he would be a leader on the team regardless.
Yet Hooper’s absence has highlighted the glaring lack of leadership alternatives.
So far, James Slipper is doing an admirable job.
The prop is highly regarded in international rugby and is highly valued on and off the pitch, but few props regularly play 60 minutes.
The Wallabies are sorely lacking someone with aura as captain.
Siya Koilisi has it, and the rise of the openside flanker to captain of the Springboks helped spark a nation’s World Cup dream.
Kolisi was the best of the Springboks on Saturday. Much like Richie McCaw, the flanker made his presence felt during the breakdown by winning two penalties in the box in the first 20 minutes.
His desire to keep the ball in place early in the second half helped set up the Boks’ third try in the minutes after halftime.
He rushed and pounced on his teammates when Moodie scored.
At post-match press conferences, he thanks everyone for coming, including when they lose like they did a week earlier.
When he speaks, the Springboks and the world listen.
Who in the Wallabies can inspire the team and the nation?
Samu Kerevi is one, but he is currently plying his trade abroad and, for the moment, injured.
Allan Alaalatoa is well regarded and speaks with clarity and poise.
McDermott is another emerging leader who calls it what he sees it and is a winner on the court.
All is not gloomy for the Wallabies.
As clumsy as their attacking breakdown and ball-in-hand play was against the Springboks, their defense kept them in the fight for 70 minutes.
They are building blocks, but the Wallabies need to work out quickly how they want to play and who can win them at next year’s World Cup.
One year from the World Cup, all hope is not lost, but we have to be proactive. Vision needed.