Gold Coast – Troubled Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has refused to blame Israel Folau for their first home Test loss to Argentina in 35 years, instead pointing the finger at his team’s lack of enthusiasm and energy.
The 23-19 upset on the Gold Coast was Australia’s fifth defeat in their past six Tests, and with only a handful of games to play before next year’s World Cup in Japan, Cheika has plenty to worry about.
The team now has a week back at their home bases before jetting to South Africa for a must-win clash against a Springboks side bubbling with confidence after shocking the All Blacks in Wellington.
Folau could have won it for Australia after the siren, but rather than pass to an unmarked Bernard Foley three metres from the line, he tried to steal the glory himself.
Instead of being a hero, he spilled the ball when hit by a tackle and the match was over.
Cheika, however, said it was wrong to pin all the blame on his star fullback, who was otherwise one of their better performers.
Asked if he thought the Wallabies would have won the game if Folau had passed to Foley, Cheika said: “Yeah, but it’s irrelevant.
“It doesn’t come down to one instance. Yes, you win the game by the score, but the performance was still the same.
“If the last pass goes, that doesn’t change anything for the other 79 minutes and 59 seconds of what went on.”
And what went on was a succession of poor defensive work, sloppy handling and wasted chances.
With David Pocock as skipper after Michael Hooper was ruled out injured, Cheika lamented his team’s wasted opportunities.
“There just wasn’t enough enthusiasm is what it all boils down to and you need to be accountable for that,” he said. “There just wasn’t enough energy in the key moments.”
Their woes were compounded by an ugly incident after the whistle when flanker Lukhan Tui got in a scuffle with an irate fan.
It capped a tough week for the 21-year-old whose stepfather died suddenly on Wednesday. He has asked for time away from the game and his Rugby Championship season appears to be over.
Argentina has been taking giant strides under Mario Ledesma, a highly-regarded former forwards coach with Australia who has now steered his team to two wins out of three after they also put South Africa to the sword in Mendosa.
They played with an urgency that the Wallabies lacked and Ledesma is keen to build on what has been achieved.
“It’s difficult to keep that motivation going, but they do it and it’s a pleasure to work with them,” he said.
For Cheika, it’s about learning from mistakes. He also knows that he needs to start delivering for Australian fans fast becoming disillusioned, as evidenced by the flare-up with Tui.
“You can’t be talking about keeping the faith,” he said.
“There are a lot of supporters out there who are behind you no matter what, but you have to be mindful of them as well.”