Cup 'specialists' Australia attack when name of the game is defence

The Wallabies flattered to deceive under the 'throw-caution-to-the-wind' philosophy of their coach, and were unable to make up for a lack of composure and accuracy.

TOKYO, 21 Oct - Australia's Rugby World Cup 2019 campaign flickered briefly, with moments of breathless attacking play hinting at past glories, before a disciplined, brutal England juggernaut brought everyone crashing back to earth in the quarter-finals. 

The Wallabies came to Japan with hopes on the rise. A thrilling 47-26 victory over the All Blacks in August suggested that the perennial World Cup specialists were once again timing their return to form perfectly. 

The two-time World Cup winners did get into their stride swiftly, emerging from a tricky opening Pool D fixture against Fiji with credit. But then came the game which, in retrospect, neatly encapsulated not only the Wallabies' RWC 2019 efforts, but perhaps coach Michael Cheika's tenure as a whole.

The winners of Australia v Wales knew they were liable to be rewarded with a smoother passage to the latter stages of the tournament. In response Cheika sprang the first of a series of selection surprises. Out went the seemingly first choice half-back pairing of Nic White and Christian Lealiifano, above right with Marika Koroibete, and in came veteran Will Genia and the out-of-form Bernard Foley.

The plan did not work. The Wallabies could not find the accuracy and execution to match their expansive, ball-in-hand tactics and, despite threatening one of the all-time great World Cup comebacks - once Genia and Foley had been hauled off - Australia fell to a 29-25 defeat. 

Bright moments in routine wins against Uruguay and Georgia restored some hope to the legions of gold-clad fans, a feeling that was ratcheted up by the emergence of Jordan Petaia.

The 19-year-old became the youngest ever World Cup Wallaby when he scored a try against Uruguay and set up another in a dazzling 40-minute debut. That was more than enough for risk-taker Cheika to bump Petaia to outside-centre for the winner-takes-all match against England.

Even the effervescent teenager could not cover up Australia's familiar failings. With Cheika happy to admit his team did not have a "plan B", the Wallabies were reliant on every ambitious offload sticking. They did not and England pounced to send their old enemy home. They will have to find a new coach next year. 

Head coach 

Cheika told the world in February 2018 that if he did not lift the Webb Ellis Cup on 2 November 2019, he would walk away from the job he loved. The 52-year-old showed he is a man of his word by revealing, on the day after the Wallabies' World Cup exit, that he will walk away when his contract with Rugby Australia expires at the end of this year. 

Player of the tournament

Favourable mentions go to captain Michael Hooper, the dynamic Matt To'omua and the livewire hooker Tolu Latu, who helped power a highly impressive Wallaby front five, but one name stands out above all others. Samu Kerevi, below with Petaia, carried the ball 61 times, beating 24 defenders and making 221m in his 320 minutes at RWC 2019. Those numbers placed him right at the top of the pile.

Most memorable moment off the pitch

Rugby is the greatest sport in the world but sometimes things happen that remind you it is just a sport. Moments after being knocked out of a World Cup he had fought so hard to be a part of, fly-half Lealiifano climbed up into the stands in Oita and sought out his young son for a hug. Three years ago he was fighting for his life after being found to have leukaemia and here he was commiserating, and yet celebrating, with those closest to him. 

Most memorable moment on the pitch

It has to be that man Petaia. After a week of unrelenting hype, the 19-year-old might as well have been picking daisies for the first 22 minutes of his debut. But when finally his team-mates flung him the ball the world got to see what all the fuss was about. First a swift, almost imperceptible sidestep and surge of acceleration took Petaia right up to the try-line. Moments later he picked an exquisite line to take an inside ball from full-back Kurtley Beale and touch down unopposed.

What next? 

As prop Allan Alaalatoa said after the defeat by England, this 31-man Wallaby squad will never play together again. A trio of totemic figures had already confirmed the tournament would mark their last outings in a Wallaby jersey. The game will mourn the departure of scrum-half Genia after 110 caps, openside maverick and former skipper David Pocock and the team's most capped prop of all-time, Sekope Kepu. Add on the fact that the likes of Kerevi, Lealiifano, Foley and powerhouse second-row Rory Arnold are all heading overseas to ply their trade and it is clear Cheika's successor has a hefty rebuilding job on his hands. 

Quote of the tournament - head coach

"Exit is exit, it doesn't matter if it's at the final or quarter-final. The opponent is irrelevant. It hurts." Michael Cheika could not hide the pain as his RWC 2019 adventure came to an end. 

Quote of the tournament - players

"Manu (Tuilagi) is a terrible snooker player, George Ford never pays for a beer, Ben Youngs isn't even the best rugby player in his family, let alone the country. The chicken, Jonny May, very weird and Dan Cole doesn't have a personality." Even Matt To'omua's deep insight into his former Leicester team-mates was not enough to help the Wallabies to victory. 

Results

Beat Fiji 39-21

Lost to Wales 25-29

Beat Uruguay 45-10

Beat Georgia 27-8

Lost to England 16-40

By the numbers

0 - the number of times Cheika's Australia beat Eddie Jones' England in seven attempts since RWC 2015.

0 - the number of times Jordan Petaia had started at outside-centre for Australia ahead of their quarter-final against England.

0 - the number of metres heavyweight second-row Rory Arnold made in seven carries against England.

0 - the regrets Cheika has that his side kicked the ball just 67 times from hand in the entire tournament. 

RNS ln/ajr/rm