Wallabies players
Dejected Wallabies players leave the field after defeat to Fiji effectively ended their World Cup. Image by Andrew Cornaga/AAP PHOTOS
  • rugby union

Wallabies left in shade having missed chance to shine

Melissa Woods October 3, 2023

Without even trying, rival football codes in Australia have rubbed salt into the wound of the Wallabies’ humiliating World Cup showing in France.

Rugby Australia boss Phil Waugh could only watch in envy as the AFL and NRL produced grand finals for the ages while the Wallabies’ tournament was all but over in historic fashion.

Plans for quarter-final parties in Marseille were shelved, with the Australians – barring a miracle result between Fiji and Portugal – set to miss the quarter-finals for the first time in 36 years.

With footy finals done in Australia, it was supposed to be the Wallabies’ time to shine but instead the sport is preparing for a review of what led to their greatest failure.

Waugh agreed the AFL and NRL grand finals highlighted the challenges facing the Wallabies, who were once the toast of the town.

“We’re here with our disappointment of this Rugby World Cup and you look back home, you’ve got probably one of the best AFL grand finals of all time and one of the best NRL grand finals of all time,” Waugh told reporters in Saint-Etienne following Australia’s pool win over Portugal.

“We’re certainly not without our challenges but what we can do is control what we do in our performances and we haven’t done that.

“We’ve got two codes doing particularly well and and then we have our performance, which is particularly disappointing to all Australians really. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Waugh didn’t believe sacking coach Eddie Jones or cutting Australian Super Rugby Pacific sides was the solution, but vowed to work with states to provide greater alignment on high performance, pathways and grass-roots rugby.

“The challenge has always been around everyone else across the system having that same vision,” he said.

“I genuinely believe at the moment, whilst there’s been some level of resistance, the majority of our stakeholders are on board with actually resetting the game.”

He said New Zealand was a key partner, as well as South Africa and the Pacific islands, to ensure southern hemisphere rugby remained competitive.

Australia will host the women’s World Cup in 2025, with the British and Irish Lions visiting in the same year, and the next men’s World Cup in 2027.

Waugh said time was ticking for rugby to sort itself out.

“What we need to do is for those players that have just entered their international career, how do we actually get more and more competitive games?,” he said.

“One of the challenges we have in Super Rugby Pacific is that you’re probably playing the same style of rugby against New Zealand and Australian teams. 

“What we really miss is that variation which South Africa brought and what northern hemisphere teams bring.

“The British and Irish Lions is going to be a huge challenge when you look at the growth of the north.”