Newly-elected Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott may be planning to scrap the country’s environmental tax and green policies, but even he must be concerned with the long-term conservation of the Wallabies.

Saturday’s 38-12 humiliation at the hands of South Africa saw Australia slump to their worst run of defeats on home soil in 42 years. It was the first time since 2001 they had failed to score a try against the Springboks.

To offer additional context, the previous eight games between the sides in Brisbane produced an average score of 32-13 in favour of Australia.

It was also Ewen McKenzie’s third straight defeat since picking up the pieces from Robbie Deans, and while two of those have come against New Zealand it is the lack of progress that is most alarming.

Australia were missing some stellar names up front in James Horwill, Scott Higginbotham, David Pocock and Wycliff Palu who, you would expect, would have put up greater resistance.

And while the Wallabies makeshift pack were totally overrun in the scrum and at the breakdown, their contribution can hardly be singled out as being culpable given the mismatch in physicality and experience.

The real blame, and what must be of considerable concern to McKenzie, was the lacklustre performance of his all-star backline. With the exception of Israel Folau, who slotted in seamlessly at full-back – at least in attack – the rest were wretched.

In the opening 20 minutes, wing Nick Cummins committed two soft knock-ons while Quade Cooper, providing plenty of ammunition for his critics, looked totally devoid of ideas.

McKenzie has tried to encourage a creative, running game but risky breaks from their own 22 lack punch and purpose. When momentum broke down, which it did frequently, instead of altering their gameplan they stubbornly pressed on, playing into Springboks hands as possession was inevitably lost.

South Africa ran in three tries in nine mad second-half minutes. Jean de Villers’ score in the 59th minute saw the TV cameras pan to an incredulous McKenzie who simply exclaimed “**** me”, echoing millions of watching Australians.

When Willie le Roux scooted through for the final try it was the result of a needless behind the arm pass from Cooper, just outside his 22, who when the going gets tough seems to get even more reckless.

McKenzie now has six days to turn it around, with Argentina awaiting in Perth on Saturday. He must persevere with the same group of forwards but has hinted at a more straightforward approach, limiting his backs’ insatiable desire to attack and excite at every opportunity and trying a more no-nonsense gameplan.

The problem is no-nonsense is exactly the brand of rugby Argentina have patented over the last decade. Things might well get worse for McKenzie and Australia before they start to get better.

 

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