Wallabies great Drew Mitchell has questioned Dave Rennie’s coaching decision to hook playmaker Bernard Foley late in Sunday’s heartbreaking 30-29 loss to France in Paris.
World No.6 Australia were on the verge of an almighty upset against the Rugby World Cup favorites before France winger Damian Penaud scored a scintillating try – assisted by some poor defense – to steal victory at the death.
The performance and the result summed up Rennie’s tenure.
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The Wallabies are capable of playing committed, at times inspired, rugby but are plagued by inconsistency and a lack of killer instinct.
Mitchell wasn’t the only one baffled by the decision to replace Foley at five-eighth with bench utility Reece Hodge.
Hodge did kick a clutch late penalty but Mitchell was not convinced.
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“I think it was a poor substitution taking Bernard Foley off,” Mitchell said on Stan Sport.
“You’ve got seven minutes to play and you take your key decision maker off. (It’s) not so much (about) Reece Hodge – I’d get him on somewhere – but at 10 was a poor decision only because you’re taking your key decision maker in Bernard Foley off.
“The key communicator, the driver, the steerer of the ship. Having someone who’s not a (specialist) 10 come on to play 10 in the most crucial moment of the game?
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“I thought that was a poor decision.”
It was a reversal of fortunes and emotions for Australia, who played much better than they had in the 16-15 win over an understrength Scotland the weekend prior.
They must now re-set for a game they should win comfortably against Italy in Florence on Sunday (12am AEDT).
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But this was a major missed opportunity to make a pre-World Cup statement and ease pressure on their coach.
“Let’s not celebrate getting close, they should have won that game,” Mitchell said.
“The same things are repeating over and over. We should be celebrating a win here. It’s hard when we get ourselves in these positions and we find a way to lose the game.”
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Rennie has indicated he will experiment with selections against Italy before picking his top team against Ireland on November 20 (AEDT).
The Stan Sport panel engaged in some interesting debate about whether Rennie needed to start getting more consistent with his selections.
“We need to start getting close to a (top) team,” Mitchell said.
“It doesn’t have to be the exact same team we’re going to be playing in the first pool game of the World Cup but they need to start getting combinations.
“In 2019 we didn’t know who the No.10 was, even into the quarter-final let alone into the first game. So I think at some point, especially in crucial positions, we need to start the building combination. You build confidence in each other and understanding each other’s games that you can move forward into what is going to be a crucial World Cup.”
Rennie said his players were simply “gutted” in the sheds.
“Because they emptied the tanks tonight and we were one control or exit away from winning it,” Rennie said.
“We’re all pretty disappointed, but I’m happy with the character and attitude shown.
“No-one really gave us a chance to come to Paris and take on a side that’s been very impressive over the last 15 months.
“We talked about playing without fear, competing hard and throwing everything at them and we did that for a big chunk of the game. It’s a disappointing outcome but proud of the effort.”
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