Mortlock’s four-point solution to fix stumbling Wallabies
THURSDAY marks one year till the start of the 2019 Rugby World Cup but former Wallabies captain Stirling Mortlock is urging Australian fans not to panic.
Even if they have every right to.
"They've still got time," Mortlock told AAP when asked if under-fire coach Michael Cheika had the capacity to arrest the Wallabies' alarming decline from 2015 finalists to an all-time low ranking of seventh in the world following Saturday's sobering loss to Argentina.
"You've only got to look at the last World Cup. 'Cheik' only had the team for less than 12 months.
"So it can be done.
"It's more a case of what's happening now and the systemic issues that are creating the poor results of late.
"That's probably more the question: What specifically do they need to do better to consistently turns these defeats around?
"A lot of them are quite narrow, barring the ones against New Zealand."
The concern for Mortlock is the Wallabies' troubles are widespread, though not necessarily deep rooted - and certainly not irreversible.
Australia's 2007 World Cup captain nominated the Wallabies' inconsistent defensive displays, ill-discipline, "robotic" attack and long-running lineout woes as the four chief issues holding Cheika's side back.
"It can be turned around and, once things start falling in place, it can happen quite quickly," Mortlock said.
"However, there's four things I've highlighted that need to be consistently done at a high level when it matters the most. That's Test-match footy.
"But questions need to be asked a little bit about these facets of our game because they've been off - and they're considerably off."
Just how off is evident in the Wallabies' dreadful record against the top-tier nations since he took the helm in October, 2014.
Since then, Australia are two from 11 against the top-ranked All Blacks, one from five against world No. 2 Ireland and one from seven against Eddie Jones' England, who the Wallabies haven't beaten since the 2015 World Cup.
The Wallabies have also lost their past two encounters with Scotland and beaten South Africa only once in their past four starts before slumping to their first defeat to Argentina on home soil in 35 years.
All up, the Wallabies have an unflattering 50 per cent winning strike rate under Cheika - 26 wins from 52 Tests.
The good news is they are a combined seven from seven against their 2019 World Cup Pool D rivals Wales (4-0), Fiji (2-0), Uruguay (1-0) and Georgia since his appointment.
Only a complete disaster would stop the two-time champions and four-time World Cup finalists from safely progressing to the knockout stages in Japan.
Even a loss and finishing second in their pool wouldn't be the end of the world given Australia's quarter-final opponents will be tough regardless, coming from Pool C's group of death containing England, Argentina, France, Tonga and the USA.
In any case, Mortlock maintains Cheika is the man to lead the Wallabies to the global showpiece despite calls for his head growing louder.
"Cheika's a fantastic championship coach," Mortlock said.
"He's really good at getting everybody aligned and armed and ready to go in to battle for something unique and obviously now that's the World Cup in the next 12 months.
"That's going to be his sole focus and I'd argue he's in his element when he's got something really specific to focus on.
"If I go back to prior to him getting the last World Cup coaching gig, when he took the Waratahs to the (Super Rugby) championship in 2014, there were a lot of things that he did that were effective.
"He has an ability to galvanise the team to go hard towards an end goal. "So he went very well in 2015 with limited preparation so I very much think he's still the right man to steer us through a campaign."