THE STORIES THAT DOMINATED AUSTRALIAN RUGBY IN 2019
On Wednesday evening, April 10, Wallabies superstar Folau pressed send on a homophobic social media post, consigning rugby to an all-consuming tailspin. The superstar fullback was sacked by Rugby Australia for a contract breach which he challenged on religious freedom grounds, demanding a hefty compensation. A confidential settlement between both parties was hardly a win for RA but was an early Christmas present for a sport which hopes to operate in clear air again in 2020.
RUGBY WORLD CUP
The Wallabies never threatened anything beyond their eventual quarter-final exit in Japan, their worst outcome since 2007. Hampered by heavy rotation, a lack of world class halves and over-commitment to running rugby, they spluttered through pool play. An early loss to Wales was followed by an almost inevitable defeat against the more streetwise England in the quarters, the 40-16 scoreline hammering home the team's shortcomings.
A VENTING COACH
Most of Australia's World Cup headlines came via outspoken coach Michael Cheika, who won few friends outside the team. It was no surprise when he ended a tumultuous four-year tenure, firing shots at RA management as he closed the the door on a 50 per cent winning record. One object of his angst, chairman Cameron Clyne, announced his exit soon afterwards.
Dave Rennie was anointed Cheika's successor, the second Kiwi to hold the Wallabies post after Robbie Deans. RA are promising big things when the highly-regarded Rennie links with director of rugby Scott Johnson, who will become a more prominent figure. There are buds of talent sprouting from the junior playing ranks, no more so than teenage outside centre Jordan Petaia.
NOT-SO SUPER RUGBY
Australia's four-pronged challenge again lacked quality outside the conference-winning Brumbies, who reached the semi-finals off the back of their Wallabies-laden pack. The youthful Reds, slow-finishing Rebels and abject Waratahs all finished outside the top 10. Daryl Gibson quit the Waratahs, replaced by another Kiwi coach, Rob Penney.
Among a swag of post-World Cup departees was champion flanker David Pocock, a genuine great. Centurions Will Genia and Sekope Kepu also took up offshore contracts, along with powerhouse back Samu Kerevi while still in his prime. The loss of Bernard Foley and Christian Lealiifano leaves Australia with wafer-thin experience in their five-eighth ranks.
Australian Associated Press