The Wallabies face the ignominy of losing all of their Tests on a spring tour of Europe for the first time in the professional era if they do not address the ill-discipline which contributed so heavily to their defeats to Scotland and England.
After a caning from French referee Romain Poite in their 15-13 loss to Scotland at Murrayfield two weeks ago, Australia were penalised 18 to nine by South African referee Jaco Peyper in their 32-15 loss to England at Twickenham on Sunday morning.
Compounding the problem was the fact the Wallabies played with 14 men for 20 minutes against England after winger Tom Wright (high tackle) and loose-head prop Angus Bell (tip tackle) were yellow-carded.
Exhibit the same lack of control against Six Nations champions Wales in Cardiff on Sunday (Australian time), they will finish the tour wearing a triple crown backwards on an uneasy head.
The Wallabies, despite fighting bravely and somehow remaining in the contest for most of the match, never really looked like winning.
The lopsided penalty count informed almost every aspect of the game, with England dominating the attacking statistics.
England kicked the ball 31 times to the Wallabies’ 23 and also enjoyed 60% possession as well as 62% of the territory.
The English carried the ball 82 times to Australia’s 55 and maked 333 run metres to their 256. They made five clean breaks to three, beat 18 defenders to 14 and delivered nine offloads to three.
In virtually every attacking area of the game, Dave Rennie’s side – outscored two tries to nil – came off second best, and it mostly stemmed from the penalty count.
Rennie should invite an ex-international referee to training this week to observe the players and help correct any bad behaviour for, if such behaviour remains, they will almost certainly suffer the same fate against the Welsh.
But it was not just penalties to blame; the inaccuracy of their play in general is a recurring problem. Apart from some broken field running, the Wallabies did not threaten the English defence and lacked cohesion in the backs.
Comparing the two backlines, there was a stark contrast in terms of capabilities. While England had two playmakers – rookie five-eighth Marcus Smith and inside-centre Owen Farrell – the Wallabies had only one, No 10 James O’Connor, although they could have used fullback Kurtley Beale as a second ball distributor.
England’s dual playmakers enabled them to shift the ball wide. This was evident in fullback Freddie Steward’s try in the sixth minute when Farrell and Smith combined to put him through a gap.
When England wanted to get across the advantage line from the set pieces they brought giant winger Manu Tuilagi into the midfield to crash the ball up.
The Wallabies should consider playing Beale at inside-centre to give them two playmakers or start rookie five-eighth Noah Lolesio and shift O’Connor to No 12, which is his preferred position.
Without Samu Kerevi they do not have any Tuilagi-sized backs to get across the advantage line so should look at using a running forward in the mid-field, especially from the lineout, to play a similar role.
With tight-head props Allan Alaalatoa and Taniela Tupou unavailable because of concussion, most observers expected England to monster the Wallabies scrum, but the Australians gained parity in the set piece against an English pack that had its own injury woes up front.
The Wallabies may not be so fortunate against Wales, and would do well to start France-based second-rowers Rory Arnold and Will Skelton together to see what they can do as a locking combination rather than bring Skelton off the bench for Arnold.
If halfback Nic White had not dislodged the ball from hooker Jamie George’s grasp as he was falling over the try line in Australian captain Michael Hooper’s tackle in the 34th minute, England would have led 23-9 at half-time, instead of 16-12, and the game would have been all but over.
The most remarkable thing about the Wallabies’ performance was that they stayed in the game almost right up to the end by virtue of their courage and enthusiasm, especially in their line-speed in defence.
That, and their huge effort chasing kicks from restarts. Of O’Connor’s four first-half penalty goals, two came directly or indirectly from pressure applied at the restart.
O’Connor scored Australia’s last points with a penalty goal in the 41st minute. When Smith kicked a penalty goal in the 72nd minute to put England 10 points ahead, the game was all but out of reach, while a runaway try to replacement hooker Jamie Blamire on full-time increased the winning margin to 17 points – a more accurate reflection of the difference between the two sides.
The Wallabies have one last chance to restore some pride against Wales, but they must improve their discipline or risk becoming the first Australian team to lose all Tests on a tour in Europe since dropping two internationals to France in 1976.