Wallabies face nightmare scenario of further decline and World Cup woe

Jake White's exit from Brumbies and recent heavy defeats hint at troubles Down Under

Jake White, one of the smartest coaches in world rugby, has just walked out on Australia's best provincial team, the Brumbies, with two years left on his contract. To those who argue that the World Cup-winning South African's undeniable gift as a strategist will always be the prisoner of his grasshopper mentality, this says more about White than it does about the state of things in Wallaby country. To others, it is another sign of a great union nation in decline – another brick working itself free from the crumbling green and gold wall.

White wanted the Wallaby coaching job – he made that abundantly clear back in June, when he guided the Brumbies to a famous victory over the British and Irish Lions in Canberra – but the Australian governing body felt it could not risk opprobrium by replacing one foreigner, Robbie Deans, of New Zealand, with another, and plumped for one of their own in the former Test prop Ewen McKenzie. White has yet to go public on the reasons behind his departure, but there must be an element of thwarted ambition in there somewhere.

There is, however, a bigger picture. International-class Australian coaches like Eddie Jones and Brian Smith see no future for themselves on native soil; Steve Meehan, one of the most forward-thinking tacticians of the younger generation, can find no fulfilling role for himself in his homeland and will probably end up returning to professional club rugby in Europe. White's sudden decision to skedaddle back to Springbok territory reinforces the impression that Wallaby rugby is in turmoil.

By coincidence, Australia's focus has now switched to South Africa. In Cape Town, White met one of his Brumbies protégés, the back-row forward and occasional Wallaby captain Ben Mowen, to explain his thinking. Mowen, who led the national team in their one-point victory over Argentina last time out, failed to talk him into a change of mind, and was left contemplating this weekend's scarily difficult meeting with the Springboks in the same city.

No one expects anything other than a decisive South African victory and if the Wallabies go down as heavily as they did in losing 38-12 to the Boks in Brisbane earlier this month and then lose to the Pumas in Rosario in nine days' time, the whiff of crisis will quickly turn into a stench. Defeat by the Lions, thorough hidings from both of their fellow southern hemisphere superpowers, deep-rooted financial problems, a dysfunctional provincial set-up, disciplinary issues that go to the very heart of the Wallaby squad – one of their most exciting talents, James O'Connor, has spent much of the year up to his lovingly tended eyebrows in trouble – and a continuing inability to scrummage their way out of a wet paper bag? This is the stuff of nightmares.

To make matters worse, they will soon find themselves at Twickenham, facing a fresh England team keen to make an early point – by scoring lots of the things – ahead of the 2015 World Cup pool meeting in London. They have already fallen below Stuart Lancaster's team in the global rankings and by the time the big tournament comes around, they could easily be behind Wales, another of their group opponents. As things stand, there is a growing possibility that the Wallabies will fail to reach the knockout stage for the first time in World Cup history.

So what has gone wrong? One of their best players, the long-serving hooker Stephen Moore, identified the most pressing of the micro issues when he admitted that the Australian set-piece remains seriously underpowered. "I don't suppose you need too much guessing to figure where we need to get it right," he said. "We have to get the scrum fixed."

Moore also indicated during the Lions tour that if pain-in-the-backside miscreants like O'Connor failed to toe the line, they would have to be dealt with by the senior personnel.

But it is Australia's macro issues that are raising the spectre of disintegration in the face of rival attractions as potent as rugby league, Aussie Rules and football. The first two of those codes dominate the Australian media on a daily basis and have first claim on a high proportion of the country's sporting talent. The last of them is gaining ground on everyone at a ferocious rate.

A successful Wallaby side has often kept the wolf from the door, but success is increasingly hard to come by when the brightest youngsters are playing different games. All things considered, it is a classic Catch-22. Still, Australian union could be worse off. It could be cricket.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada