Sydney - Australia head to Italy with coach Michael Cheika
under renewed pressure after their bid for a perfect tour of Europe ended at
the first hurdle with a dismal loss to Wales.
Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle had said nothing less
than three wins against the Welsh, Italy and England could be deemed a 'pass
mark' for the Wallabies, who managed only two victories in the Rugby
Championship and lost a series against Ireland on home soil for the first time
in 39 years.
Yet their performance at Millennium Stadium on Saturday
inspired little confidence back home that they could manage a win against lowly
Italy, let alone Eddie Jones's England, with the clock ticking towards next
year's World Cup in Japan.
Having already been dragged over the coals twice by the
media after back-to-back losses against New Zealand and a maiden home defeat by
Argentina, Cheika and his staff faced a fresh round of criticism from
Australian pundits on Monday.
The Australian's rugby writer Wayne Smith wrote that the
performance "was so lame and tired that Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle
will be forced to make changes post-tour".
"The Wallabies can't continue through to the World Cup
while being so poorly coached."
In a season littered with negative statistics, the Wallabies
collected another in Cardiff by surrendering their winning streak of 13 matches
against Warren Gatland's Wales.
Perhaps most gallingly for home fans was that their team
threw away their chances in the 9-6 defeat.
Awarded two second half penalties, captain Michael Hooper
waved away both shots on goal but the push for tries came to nothing, with prop
Allan Alaalatoa spilling the ball in a maul and Tolu Latu overcooking a
line-out throw to lose possession.
"This test was turgid and forgettable, as the playing
standards were so low, but it was an international an average Wallabies line-up
would have won, as there were countless second half chances," respected
rugby pundit Greg Growden fumed on ESPN's website (espn.com.au).
"But this team is well short of even an average
Rugby Australia have ignored calls to sack Cheika or tweak
his staff throughout a season that has yielded only three wins from 11 Tests
but a loss to Italy in Padova on Saturday could make the coach's position
Wallabies No 8 David Pocock painted a grim picture of a team
struggling for confidence a year out from the World Cup.
“It's all mental,” he said.
"Physically everyone's pretty strong and fit so it's
all about the mental side of things and as players we know that and we're
working on that."