Wallabies assistant coach Dan McKellar has hit back at suggestions Australia can’t win next year’s World Cup and defended the decision to rest so many top players following last week’s shock loss to Italy.
Former greats of the game have criticised coach Dave Rennie, with some suggesting his position should be questioned ahead of next year’s showpiece event in France.
No one went harder than former skipper Stirling Mortlock, who declared the Wallabies were no chance of winning the 2023 World Cup after their second loss in three Tests in Europe.
“That’s Stirling’s opinion. Everyone’s got one and he’s allowed one,” McKellar said ahead of this weekend’s daunting Test in Ireland.
“Do I agree with it? One hundred per cent not.
“There’s a good group of footballers here and there’s a core group of players who are still back in Australia as well. I think what you’ll find is that the 33 who go to the World Cup next year are certainly good enough to win the trophy.”
Criticism has been flowing thick and fast since the 28-27 defeat in Florence, which was Australia’s third one-point result in a row on the European tour and their first loss against Italy.
“Of course we’re well aware of it (criticism from back home),” McKellar said.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a more disappointed dressing shed than Saturday afternoon in Florence. We were shattered.
“When you coach at this level, when you lose, you feel like you’ve let the country down. We certainly felt that and it’s something we’ve got to review thoroughly.
“With professional rugby, you’ve also got to learn to park it pretty quickly and move on because we’re about to come up against what I think is the best team in the world on their home turf.”
The biggest gripe most people had with Australia’s performance against Italy wasn’t so much what they did on the field but Rennie making 11 changes from the side that narrowly went down to France the week before.
A 12th change was made just before kick-off because of injury, and while Rennie and his coaching staff have copped heat, McKellar said rotations were always going to happen on such a long tour.
“What’s important is that Dave doesn’t pick the team on his own. There’s a whole lot of others that carry responsibility around selection,” he said.
“It’s a five-Test tour and it’s a tough tour that we’ve been asked to play in. We’re loving the experience, but from a rugby physical point of view, it takes its toll on the players’ bodies, especially at the end of a long year.
“It was always in our plans to provide an opportunity for all members of the group. The disappointing thing is that the guys who played on Saturday didn’t get the job done.”
The Wallabies outscored the Italians four tries to three but conceded a whopping 16 penalties compared with just nine by the hosts.
McKellar was left to bemoan their lack of discipline, especially because it’s an ongoing issue that the coaches have been trying to fix at training, and he knows they’ll be in huge trouble if it’s not improved against Ireland, the top team in the world.
“It’s certainly frustrating. It’s frustrating for all involved – players as well,” he said.
“Rugby is a complex game and you’re going to give penalties away, but it’s the silly penalties that are hurting us at critical moments.
“It’s a huge focus for us at training with consequences in and around it. We review it thoroughly and we’ve certainly made big strides and improvements in the first two games, but against the Italians, we fell back into bad habits.”