Michael Pascoe: No pussyfooting – the Wallabies’ dire World Cup outlook

The equation for the Wallabies is grim, writes Michael Pascoe.

The equation for the Wallabies is grim, writes Michael Pascoe. Photo: TND/Getty

While there’s life, there’s hope – and the Wallabies are still alive in the Rugby World Cup.

Alive, but not at all healthy. Avoiding the ignominy of failing to make the quarter-finals for the first time will require luck, other results going our way – and the Wallabies playing vastly better rugby.

That last factor is the hardest part on present form but not impossible.

Even with that though, it is, er, “tricky” for all the other parts of the puzzle to fall into place.

There has been a tendency in at least parts of the rugby press to pussyfoot about how difficult the outlook is for the Wallabies. For example:

“A win would put Australia in a strong position to progress to the quarter-finals, but a loss could be catastrophic for the team’s chances of making the last eight.”

No ‘could’ about it

No, a loss means it’s over, no “could” about it – unless you think Georgia will beat Wales. (I don’t.)

And just “a win” does not put Australia in a strong position. Indeed, a close win by less than 7 points also means a quarter final is unlikely.

Only a very big win – Australia scoring four tries against Wales and a margin of more than 6 points – could be described as putting Australia in a “strong position”, though still dependent on other matches going the right way.

With the way the Rugby World Cup regulations work with bonus points and tied results at the end of the pool games, Australia’s best chance of making the play-offs would come from Fiji gaining maximum points – scoring four tries – in its remaining games against Portugal and Georgia, thus recording 16 points which should mean topping the pool.

On Fiji’s form over the past month, that has to be considered highly probable, entitling them to a quarter final against Argentina.

If Australia defeats Wales on Sunday night but neither team wins a bonus point (Wales losing by more than 6, Australia not scoring four tries), both teams would be on 10 points with a game to go: Oz v Portugal and Wales v Georgia.

If … and … but

If one team scores a bonus point while winning their match and the other does not, the team with the bonus gets to play England in the quarters.

If both score bonus points or both fail to, they finish the pool tied on either 14 or 15 points – it doesn’t matter which. The good news is that in that situation, Wales goes home and the Wallabies live to fight another day.

There are other theoretical possibilities e.g. Fiji only picking up one bonus point, potentially resulting in a three-way tie. The pool winner is then the team with the best for-and-against points result, with second place decided by the result of the other teams’ pool match.

The whole process is a bit like landing a trifecta for Australia – and that’s never easy.

Let’s just say it was a good idea for coach Eddie Jones to make his excuses early, saying this expedition to France was about building to the next world cup in 2027.

Excuses and more excuses

What excuses Rugby Australia Chairman Hamish McLennan might have, I don’t know.

Just as a reckoning looms for Richard Goyder over his responsibilities as Qantas chairman, Mr McLennan is responsible for the Hail Mary pass he threw in sacking Dave Rennie and hiring Jones with his box of hand grenades.

But you play and support rugby to find out, to enjoy the game and blame the officials and management afterwards.

An English contact suggested it must have been painful to watch in the Saint-Etienne stands last weekend. I replied in the negative – it was grand.

It was certainly disappointing to see the Wallabies play poorly (especially giving away their usual quota of dumb penalties), but it was magnificent to witness Fiji play so well and expansively, realising the potential their players have shown for so long, in what remained an exciting match to the end.

That’s rugby. Unlike some other codes, it is in the spirit of the game to enjoy watching the opposition play well.

Roll on Monday – and four tries against Wales!

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