Bob Dwyer, the coach, said before the quarter-final that he did not believe the Australian public to be so fickle as to abandon a game they had taken to as never before since Dwyer's team won the 1991 World Cup.
That theory is about to be tested, since not only is it well known that Australians love a winner but the temptations of Rupert Murdoch's Super League have suddenly become even more enticing amid the disillusionment of defeat.
As many as eight of the beaten Wallabies - Horan, Little, Burke, Roff, Smith, Bowen, Ofahengaue and Tabua - are targets for rugby league. On top of that, Michael Lynagh, the captain, will probably announce his retirement in the next week and David Campese is thinking along the same lines.
There may be others, too, which means that the greatest of all eras in Australian rugby has ended. Lynagh passed 900 Test points in the England match. Campese won his 91st cap, has 61 Test tries and will keep going towards his century only if the selectors give him reason to believe he will not be dropped.
On the evidence of the past three weeks he may well be disappointed. So may Dwyer, who will be under pressure when he stands for re-election in December for a ninth year.
The threat of a mass departure accompanied by the retirement of his most revered stalwarts is, perversely, what maintains Dwyer's enthusiasm. Bringing forward a new generation would be as stimulating as anything he has done in rugby.
But the authorities to whom he is answerable are less sanguine. Hence the frenzy of activity to get the widely touted new southern hemisphere competitions immediately into place, backed by mega-sponsorship which might persuade the target players to stay out of rugby league's clutches.
The Australian Rugby Union is urgently working, maybe with Murdoch, to have the announcement of a three nations' championship, involving New Zealand and South Africa, and an inter-provincial competition made as soon as next week, whatever rugby union's amateur regulations stipulate.Reuse content