After the Wallabies’ poor performance in the Rugby Championship in which they lost all of their Tests to the All Blacks and Springboks for only the second time in the professional epoch, the ARU was banking on a Grand Slam against the four Home Nations to get the team on track.
But the Wallabies now have to learn the pieces of a broken dream and find a way through the rest of what is shaping up as a very perfidious tour.
The Wallabies were upset about some arguable decisions by Rugby referee George Clancy, including the alleged obstacle that led to England five-eighth Owen Farrell’s try and an adjunct referee not noticing England fullback Mike Brown’s big toe on the touchline when he made a kick, but they are gulling themselves if they think that is what cost them the game.
McKenzie was right when he said in the build-up to the game that England was dangerous. It was not at full-strength, missing five of its British and Irish Lions stars, and was playing its first game of the season.
But the Wallabies were simply not good enough to take advantage of it. Strategically, they had a sound enough game plan to win it, but their efforts were sabotaged by selection issues and structural flaws in the team framework.
The main reason of lack of good leadership.
McKenzie’s decision to appoint No 8 Ben Mowen as captain and five-eighth Quade Cooper vice-captain ahead of regular leaders James Horwill and Will Genia has failed.
McKenzie thought that alleviating the out-of-form Horwill of the captaincy would allow him to focus on his own game, but aside from calling to himself in the line-out he was fairly invisible as he is still restricted by his physical condition.
It will be concerning to see whether Horwill remains in the run-on side if Rob Simmons returns from injury to play against Italy in Turin next Sunday.
Genia, who has already been dropped to the bench by McKenzie for a couple of Tests, looked totally disconnected in one of his poor performances.
He made many mistakes including having a box kick charged down from a ruck on the Wallabies’ line, which led to England captain Chris Robshaw’s try. I would expect to see Genia back on the bench for the Italian Test.
It would have been hard for Genia to accept being overlooked for the vice-captaincy for Cooper.
Former Wallabies second-rower Peter FitzSimons wrote last week that McKenzie’s decision to give Cooper the vice-captaincy was either an act of genius or folly. Well, it looked like the latter.
Cooper did throw a nice long pass to get fullback Israel Folau around England outside centre Joel Tomkins, which led up to inside centre Matt Toomua’s try.
And he kicked three goals in the first half to help the Wallabies to a 13-6 lead at the break.
But as England mounted pressure in the second half, Cooper’s mistake rate increased, including missing two crucial shots at penalty goal.
Conversely, Farrell started poorly, but he stepped up when the game was there to be won or lost in the second half. If Farrell had not missed three kickable penalty goals in the first half, England would have led 15-13 at half-time. Instead, it came back from seven points down to score 14 unanswered points in the second half to win the game.
After missing only four tackles in the first half, the Wallabies missed 10 in the second against a pedestrian England attack.
The Wallabies’ scrum remains a huge problem. Five of the 12 penalties the team conceded were from scrum infringements.
Sekope Kepu will probably challenge Ben Alexander for the starting tight-head spot after he was stood up in the scrum several times at Twickenham, but that will not address the core of the problem.
It was significant that Australia’s best scrummaging second-rower Sitaleki Timani and its best scrummaging front-rower, reserve loose-head prop Benn Robinson, were never on the field at the same time. Even if Timani and Robinson were on together, they would not completely fix the Wallabies’ scrum problem, which stems from the fact they do not scrummage as an eight-man pack.
Openside flanker Michael Hooper does not add his weight to the scrum, while Mowen spends most of the time with his head out of the scrum.
The Wallabies must get their scrum right when they play Italy as the Azzurri are the best scrummagers in Europe and will target the Australian set piece.