Rugby World Cup Daily: Was that the death of Aussie rugby?

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These daily files will give you the latest reporting from around the World Cup as well as betting lines, what to watch for information and best reads. Check in with ESPN throughout the tournament as we bring you the latest from France.

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THE LEAD: A dark, dark day for Australian rugby

What more can you say than that the Wallabies were absolutely destroyed by Wales in Lyon on Sunday night.

Warren Gatland’s team were superb as they crushed Australia 40-6 in what was a record victory for Wales.

Even after the early loss of Dan Biggar to injury, Wales continued to dominate proceedings at Groupama Stadium as they locked up a quarterfinal berth for the fourth straight tournament.

The bloodletting is only just beginning for the Wallabies meanwhile, with Australia all but guaranteed to miss the knockout stage of the tournament.

On top of the bombshell Sydney Morning Herald report that Eddie Jones had been exploring a job opportunity back in Japan, this truly was one of the darkest days — if not the darkest — in Australian rugby history.

It is going to be some week back at the team’s Saint Etienne base, where the team will only face more questions about Jones’ commitment to the Wallabies moving forward.

What was supposed to be a triumphant return for Jones to the Wallabies after 18 years away, has instead turned into a complete and utter nightmare, one that has only inflicted more devastation on those fans who against their better judgement, continue to support the team.


AROUND THE CUP

Jac Morgan, a Welsh machine

Warren Gatland has said there’s something about this group of Wales players that reminds him of the class of 2011. That group was captained brilliantly by a young openside Sam Warburton, and they confounded doubters to reach the semifinals of the World Cup. It’s hard not to see the parallels after the performance of captain Jac Morgan, another young No.7, against the Wallabies on Sunday. He was magnificent. He teed up the first try with a wonderful offload to Gareth Davies, he chipped in with a 50:22 off the back of a poor Wallabies lineout and scored Wales’ third try, the effort that finished off Australia. And on top of that, he was the top tackler on the field with 15.

It was an astonishing performance from the 23-year-old. And the scary thing? If everything plays out like you hope it does, he’s got at least two more World Cups in him. That’s the spine of the team Gatland is building and while the Wales head coach doesn’t understand Morgan when he speaks Welsh, the two have clearly built an understanding and it’s working brilliantly.

“He’s a young man and I threw him in at the deep end,” Gatland said. “He spoke brilliantly during the week. I have huge admiration for him. He’s a player for the future. We’re blessed with sevens at the moment. We’ve got Tommy Reffell and Taine Basham too. He’s a player who leads from the front. I thought he was outstanding tonight. It was a brilliant performance from him.”

Overall it was a commanding 40-6 win for Wales as they completely obliterated a sorry Wallabies side. Gatland can now start planning for the knockouts, but he’s not willing to put any pressure on the team by making any bold predictions about how far they can go.

“I know a lot has been spoken about this side of the draw. But it is what it is. It’s not our fault,” Gatland said. “If we can build on tonight, then it’s just one game at a time. Our focus next week is all on Georgia, a team we lost against in the autumn. We need to rectify that and not drop our standards. The players are aware of that and have worked hard.

“The message isn’t about the starting XV or 23, it’s a squad of 33. We’ve got some great people in this environment. The message from me beforehand was ‘you get what you deserve’. We’ve been through some pain and tough times. We’ve pushed them to the edge and they’ve fronted up. We’ve got a brilliant balance in terms of taking the mickey out of each other and some real banter, but when they’re asked to front up, they knuckle down. I’m really happy with the environment. Hopefully that continues.”

Wallabies fans turn their backs in Lyon

With 10 minutes left on the clock and all hope of a Wallabies comeback dead, Australia fans at OL Stadium, Lyon showed their heartbreak with hordes getting to their feet and leaving.

It’s symbolic of just how far Australian rugby has fallen with diehard fans who’d travelled halfway around the world to support their nation unable to stomach any more of the shambolic display the Wallabies had dished up.

Everything was on the line for Australia in their clash against Wales, and while they had their chances and stuck with Wales for the opening 20 minutes, it became evident just minutes after the halftime break that Australia’s dreams of reaching the quarters were over.

Fans sat in stunned silence as their team was easily dismantled and overrun by a smart and experienced Wales outfit with more unwanted history piled onto the inexperienced outfit.

Their biggest World Cup loss ever, heaviest defeat to Wales ever and worst still, the first time they’ve failed to reach the quarters.

While the players were in tears and left to console each other on the pitch, captain Dave Porecki fronted the post-match media, close to tears he apologised for the side’s horrible performance, before vice-captain Tate McDermott did the same just minutes later. It was rounded out by Eddie Jones telling media at the post match press conference “I apologise for that, I take full responsibility for it.”

‘Handre Pollard is not Superman’

Less than 24 hours after the Springboks lost to Ireland, Rassie Erasmus faced the press to dissect the defeat the night before. One of the main issues in the post-match fallout was around the points lost from the tee in their 13-8 defeat. They left 11 points on the field – two penalties from Faf de Klerk alongside a conversion and a penalty from Manie Libbok.

Libbok’s erratic kicking has been one of the topics of discussion this World Cup, and with Pollard now waiting in the wings after he was called up as an injury replacement for Malcolm Marx after recovering from his own knock, he’s a ready-made solution to the problem. But Erasmus is playing down hopes Pollard is the answer to their goal-kicking woes.

“You have to see things in perspective,” Erasmus said. “Handre Pollard is not Superman. Four weeks ago he was totally not ready to play rugby. He hasn’t even run at full pace four or five weeks ago. He has only played 40 minutes of rugby.

“He can’t just come on the field and do goal-kicking; he must tackle, pass, do kick-offs, sidestep, do hand-offs, clean out at the rucks. People think we didn’t pick Handre Pollard because we didn’t want to. That’s not the case. Handre was injured. We were always going to rotate the squad for the Tonga match so he’s definitely up for selection for this match.

“Handre is playing this weekend, but let’s see first of all how Handre does the other stuff in the game. Does he get through it on the contact side of things? I am sure he’ll also take some time to find his rhythm with his kicking under pressure. The Tonga one will be a great test for him as a yardstick to see where he is before we go – if we go – into those quarter-finals, and who will be on the field. Manie is certainly playing brilliant fly-half rugby at the moment, obviously his goal-kicking is not matching that at this stage.”

Erasmus also took to X (the platform formerly known as Twitter) to praise the performance of referee Ben O’Keeffe and he also apologised to South Africa for the defeat.

– Tom Hamilton

Townsend unhappy with officials after captain Ritchie sidelined

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend was left bemused by the bunker review system for the second World Cup game in a row as he confirmed captain Jamie Ritchie faces a minimum of 12 days on the sidelines following the 45-17 win over Tonga on Sunday.

Ritchie was struck in the head following a tackle from Tongan winger Afusipa Taumoepeau late in the first half of the Pool B clash in Nice.

Taumoepeau was given a yellow card by referee Karl Dickson, which was not upgraded to red on bunker review.

“It will be a 12-day turnaround I would imagine as he has had previous head injuries,” Townsend told reporters. “That is obviously a big blow for him and for us.

“It was very disappointing for our captain and one of our key players to be removed from the game. Against South Africa, Jack Dempsey was also hit in the head and nothing was done that day.”

World Rugby has introduced a bunker system where officials have eight minutes to decide on review if a yellow card should be upgraded to a red, or vice-versa.

“I just don’t understand what the bunker television match official and three (match) officials are looking at to say if it is a red card or not,” Townsend said.

“It seems they are looking for ways not to give red cards, rather than referee what is an illegal tackle.”

Townsend also confirmed hooker Stuart McInally is out of the World Cup with a neck injury, bringing to an end his international career having announced he would retire after the tournament.

“He had pain in his neck which did not recover for two days. We did a scan and it showed (the damage),” Townsend said.

Johnny Matthews will join the squad in France as a replacement.

– Reuters


NEWS OF THE DAY

Biggar in doubt ahead of quarters

Dan Biggar is a doubt for Wales’ final pool stage match of the Rugby World Cup against Georgia after picking up a pectoral injury in their comfortable win over the Wallabies on Sunday.

Biggar picked up the injury in the seventh minute of the match as he stretched to tackle Richie Arnold. He managed to play on for another four minutes but was replaced by Gareth Anscombe.

Warren Gatland said post-match he was yet to get a full medical report from the team’s staff, but he spoke to Biggar and the early prognosis sees him miss their last pool stage match against Georgia but they remain hopeful he’ll be fit for the quarterfinal.

Wales secure quarterfinals berth

Wales became the first side to advance to the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals with a one-sided 40-6 demolition of Australia on Sunday that left the two-time past winners facing embarrassingly early elimination.

The victory at the OL Stadium guarantees a top-two finish in Pool C for Wales while Australia’s destiny is now out of their control, having already lost to Fiji last Sunday.

An early try from Gareth Davies laid the platform for Welsh success with Nick Tompkins and captain Jac Morgan also going over while replacement flyhalf Gareth Anscombe efficiently kicked six penalties, a drop goal and a conversion after taking over from the injured Dan Biggar.

– Reuters


TOP FEATURES OF THE DAY

Wallabies obliterated on Australian rugby’s rock-bottom day

One of the most extraordinary days in the code’s troubled recent history Down Under started and ended in inglorious fashion as the Wallabies exited Rugby World Cup 2023.

Serene Wales keep rolling under the radar to sweep sorry Australia aside

All the noise before the game was from the Wallabies camp but Wales showed their calm and collected approach is what takes to win.

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