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the Wallabies are ALREADY set for a better year under Joe Schmidt, and here’s why

The morning of September 26th, 2023 lived long in the memory for Australian rugby fans, as many woke up to the news (or indeed, if they stayed up all night, drank their sorrows away) that Australia was on the receiving end of a record World Cup loss to Wales.

As a result, they would bow out in the pool stages for the first time ever at a World Cup – and at the time Jim Tucker summed it up perfectly on the Roar Rugby Podcast’s instant reaction at the World Cup.

“It was embarrassment, it was humiliation, the chant of ‘Eddie’s a wanker’ went up – and Australians usually reserve that for nobility like Richard Hadlee and a one-off on Wendell Sailor. 

“There were shattered Australian people in the crowd, and they didn’t get a fight for their money. That’s what they are most unhappy about – that was an inept performance, the worst performance by an Australian team at a World Cup, full stop.”

Still hurts, doesn’t it?

Well now, here we go round again. It’s time to put on our green and gold jumpers, brandish that Wallaby crest, and hold our collective breath to see what Wallaby team turns up to play Wales on Saturday.

However, at the risk of jinxing the team, the Wallabies, win or lose, will be a better side for both the players and the fans in 2024.

What does that mean? Well, the answer, put simply, comes down to Joe Schmidt and his team.

It has been noted by a few folks that the Wallabies have been eerily quiet coming into this match, with very little news outside of regular press conferences and the occasional injury-replacement news.

Even more notably though, was Joe Schmidt’s admission that he was unprepared coming into the week – with no clear idea of his starting side, his bench, even his captain. 

“I’ve never been so unprepared,” he admitted in his presser.

“This is the one time I’ve got to meet all these players and in those previous roles, I’d had three years with Leinster, and I knew a greater proportion of that squad.

“Before the All Blacks, I had the Blues.

“It’s a little bit daunting, to be honest, but if I wasn’t nervous, I don’t think I’d be on the edge doing my job right.

“So I’m happy to be nervous because it just encourages me to work a bit harder and engage a bit quicker and a bit more often with the players, so that we can try to be on the same page.”

Interestingly, many fans might be able to relate to his unpreparedness. How does one emotionally prepare for such a game when you are following up such a dark moment in the history of your team?

But Joe’s frank admission is something many fans need to hear: the honesty he’s exhibited is a whiplash.

What made 2023 hurt so much was not just the fact that the Wallabies underperformed so significantly, it was also that there was another show taking place on the sidelines – that of Eddie Jones.

Many coaches like to make it about themselves, and there is actually a lot of merit to doing so. Rassie Erasmus is a great, successful example, getting in trouble on social media, making weird comments in pressers – all is done to drum up media excitement, and keep the eyes and heat firmly on him – and away from his team as they make their preparations.

Yet you hear from South African players, a key reason why they perform so well is because of how much they trust the coach.

@theroarsports #SiyaKolisi pays tribute to his coach #JacquesNienaber following their win over #EnglandRugby. The #RWC2023 Grand Final will be the head coach’s final match in charge of the #Springboks ???? #GoBokke #RugbyWorldCup #SouthAfrica #rugbytok #rugbybanter #ENGvRSA #NZLvRSA #GrandFinal #springboksrugby ♬ original sound – The Roar

For Eddie, this approach worked for a while in several places – in Japan and England, where there are many viral moments of him telling off journos and schooling individuals for asking questions about the team. 

However, he also takes the approach of breaking and moulding his players into the game style he wants to play. The issue is, once his rugby strategies are discovered (or he loses the support of the team and management around him), such a heavyhanded approach falls apart – much like it did in England, or both his stints as Wallabies coach.

The stories came out about players not even getting contacted, the viral ads about ‘not going to France just for the croissants’. It was about drawing attention, and unfortunately for Eddie, it failed spectacularly because the rugby on the field failed to deliver.

What made it worse for fans was that, as a consequence, many who had bought into the hype and the story felt like they’d been taken for fools. Whether it was true or not, all the talk and debate came to nought after Wales result – and it burned away the last residue of goodwill that fans had with Australian rugby’s status quo.

David Porecki and Head Coach, Eddie Jones speak to the media during a press conference ahead of their Rugby World Cup France 2023 match, on September 29, 2023 in Saint-Etienne, France. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Eddie may have had good intentions, but in the attempt to pull the ultimate haymaker by signing him, he, along with members of Rugby Australia, lost a lot of trust in the Australian rugby community – and considering where it was at already, such a result cut deeper than previous losses. 

2023 was not just a bad performance with no fight, but it felt like we’d been sold a lie. 

So, to have Joe be so honest, be so blunt in his assessment of the team is, be realistic of how far they have to go, be accepting of the fact he is not a miracle worker and that these things take time – how relieving is it to just be told something honest

Already, we’re in a better place than last year. Already, we’re doing better than 2023 under Joe Schmidt. 

Yep, we have good reason to be nervous about that first clash with Wales, but we’re also not blowing smoke up the proverbial. There is no debate of where the Wallabies sit in the pecking order of World Rugby.

This is where we are, stripped of any bravado we once had, smacked down by years of disappointment and failing to live up to the glorious yesteryears. All we have now is a green and gold jersey that means the world to us. This team and this coach are it’s caretakers, and they are honest about where they are, and where they want to go so they can leave it better than where they found it.

Let’s welcome this stripped-back approach. Any rusted-on rugby fans probably know the true lows, and the pain, and they also know that it will be a long journey back. 

If the Wallabies blow the Welsh away, and Joe undersold his time in camp, great. If he scrounges out a win or even a close loss, whatever. We’ll take underpromising and overdelivering over the alternative. Such an approach means that we can just focus on the rugby in front of us.  

Granted, such an approach requires a lot of patience, and that is one thing fans don’t have a lot left of. More than anything, Australian fans want wins, yesterday. 

The pressure of not repeating 2023’s mistakes are likely not lost on the players. Honestly, when the bar is this low, such pressure can also be liberating. No one is expecting fireworks – so just play

They might surprise themselves, and if there is one thing that is the case in rugby, things can turn around quicker than some might expect. 

Look no further than the current World Champions – with Allister Coetzee as coach, in 2017 they lost to Italy for the first time and fell to an all-time low of seventh in the World Rankings. Remember when they lost to Ireland 38-3?

Yet, it took Rassie Erasmus one year to turn them into a World Cup-winning side.

If Joe Schmidt is set to deliver more honest candidness about the state of this side, then bring it on. 

Bring on the challenges ahead, bring on the highs and bitter lows, bring on the pain, which has now become an old friend.

Bring on the long mountain Australian rugby has to climb, bring on the growth and bring on the belief from the players and fans.

Bring on Saturday. 

SAN JUAN, ARGENTINA – AUGUST 13: Players of Australia during the National Anthem prior to The Rugby Championship match between Argentina Pumas and Australian Wallabies at San Juan del Bicentenario Stadium on August 13, 2022 in San Juan, Argentina. (Photo by MB Media/Getty Images)

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