Wallabies: Injuries, Giteau’s Law and rolling the dice with Dave Rennie

Dylan Coetzee

The current Wallabies side is a shadow of its old self and has never seemed to get going under head coach Dave Rennie since the New Zealander took over.

The Australians have seen a number of record lows in 2022, including their worst ever defeat against Argentina in the Rugby Championship, their first loss to Italy and their lowest-ever world ranking.

Planet Rugby delves into why one of rugby’s superpowers has stumbled so often and whether Rennie deserves to keep his job or not.

Number crunch

Unfortunately for Wallabies supporters, the more one looks into the statistics behind Australia’s performances, the grimmer the reading becomes.

Under Rennie, the Wallabies have only managed a dismal 36.4% win rate in 33 Tests, including 18 losses and three draws, which alone should be sending alarm bells through the Rugby Australia offices.

Of the 18 losses, eight were by 15 points or more, two between five and 10 points and eight games within five points. The groups of losses by big margins and narrow margins boast different issues.

Losing by more than 15 on that many occasions is deeply concerning and points to structural issues and a lack of adaptability. At the same time, the narrow losses suggest a lack of composure in key moments when the game should be won. The late loss to France in the Autumn Nations Series immediately springs to mind.

Outside of looking at only the results, statistics show clear holes in their execution of the fundamentals. For example, Australia finished the Rugby Championship with the worst set-piece, winning 81.9% of their lineouts and only 77% of their scrums – the competition’s lowest for both.

This is a core issue for the Wallabies side because trying to play rugby without a decent enough set-piece is like playing chess without a queen. This is even more emphasised in today’s game, where penalty counts have been on the rise, which presents the next issue.

The Wallabies’ discipline is truly shocking, giving away a whopping 139 penalties in their last 10 games at an average of 13.9 penalties per match. On four separate occasions, Rennie’s men conceded 16 penalties in a Test.

Once a team at the highest level starts giving away penalties for free, any opposition with a solid set-piece will simply milk penalties and leverage the game that way which, if done correctly, can almost completely disarm the Wallabies.

Injuries

Some factors mitigate Rennie’s lack of success with the Wallabies, given the number of injuries faced in 2022 in particular.

For example, this weekend sees Ben Donaldson become the fifth different player to start at fly-half this year. Quade Cooper, James O’Connor, Bernard Foley and Noah Lolesio have all played in the pivot role. Given the crisis, it was expected that Lolesio would kick on in the starting side but he has failed to do so, as Rennie clearly sees something he does not like in the Brumby.

Outside of fly-half there are several high-profile injuries, including Samu Kerevi, who had been outstanding for the Wallabies. The graphic shows a full matchday 23 of injured players that actually looks like a decent side showcasing just how much Rennie is missing.

Giteau’s Law

There is always merit in trying to prevent a player drain from Australia to overseas countries, and Giteau’s Law is designed for exactly that. The ruling allows Rennie only three overseas-based players to be selected to encourage players to stay in the country if they want to represent the Wallabies.

This ruling may pay off in the long run, but in the short or medium term, it does more harm than good. Making foreign-based players available was one of the key catalysts in the Springboks’ rise to world champions in 2019 under Rassie Erasmus.

Rugby Australia should seriously consider lifting the ruling for at least the Rugby World Cup year because their national team is far too inconsistent to make a significant charge at the showpiece if they were to continue in this way.

Rennie-in or Rennie-out

In reality, it is too late for this question. Sure there have been various situations where there have been notable turnarounds for rugby union teams in a short space of time, but that will not work in this case.

Despite the poor win rate, Rennie does have the backing of the players, as Lalakai Foketi said in the press this week the coach’s systems and approaches are brilliant, but it is the players who should take ownership.

It is strange to assess Rennie, who looks like a decent coach and has had the Wallabies purring at times but never consistent enough to produce several winning performances in a row.

Ultimately the Wallabies will have a new coach post-World Cup, and if Rugby Australia wanted a change, it should have already happened. Instead, they have decided to roll the dice with Rennie.

The decision will pay off to some extent as the Wallabies will manage to muster a decent charge at the showpiece tournament as they have done in several World Cups.

Keep Rennie at the helm, lift Giteau’s Law and see then how the Wallabies will fare.

READ MORE: Autumn Nations Series: Five storylines to watch ahead of the final week’s action as teams hunt much-needed victories