Wallabies halfback Nic White says it's unfair to lay any blame on Reece Hodge for his late penalty miss and even suggested the “losing draw” against Argentina in Newcastle was what Australia deserved for not learning from their mistakes.
Five games into Dave Rennie’s tenure as coach, the results column reads two draws, two losses and one win, with the latest stalemate on Saturday evening tossing up more questions than answers.
Had Hodge booted a 78th-minute penalty, Australians would have been lauding the team’s stoic ability to grind out a win. But in White’s view, that would have been to gloss over inaccuracy and poor execution in the lead-up.
Regardless of full-time scorelines, the "inaccuracy" line is beginning to sound like a broken record out of Wallabies camp.
“That’s certainly not on Reece,” White said. “Maybe to a degree we needed that draw to feel like this because if he got us out of trouble, maybe we’re not picking up on the things we need to pick up on pretty quick.
“It’s going to be hard reviewing. Moments like these we’ve got to learn [from] and we can’t make these mistakes again.
“I thought we did a really good job of showing a fair bit of pride in the jersey. It was certainly bloody physical. You can’t fault the work-rate, the intent, it’s all there. We’ve just got to marry that up with a bit of execution, a bit of accuracy and play a bit smarter.
“We are a young side but we can’t be going day in day out, week in week out saying, 'look guys, we’ve spoken about this'. We need to start owning it and learning quick.”
The Tri Nations trophy is still up for grabs with two matches remaining. Argentina face New Zealand in Newcastle on Saturday before another clash with the Wallabies on December 5 at Bankwest Stadium.
The permutations are complicated. All three teams are on six points but the Kiwis have a +26 points differential, ahead of Argentina (+10) and Australia (-36).
If New Zealand knock off the Pumas with a bonus point (five competition points), Australia would need to win by a near-impossible margin - in the ballpark of 80 points - to give themselves a chance of taking out the title.
A regular Kiwi win (four competition points), however, would mean Australia could beat Argentina with a bonus point and come out victorious overall.
For Argentina, who have two remaining fixtures, they could pick up a losing bonus point against New Zealand (falling short by seven or fewer points) and then beat Australia which would ensure they take home the silverware. White suggested the best case scenario for the Wallabies would in fact be a draw on Saturday.
While there were immediate comparisons to the Wellington draw last month, the context was very different.
Australia were major underdogs across the ditch and came within a whisker of a remarkable win, while the Newcastle grind was a game the Wallabies should have comfortably wrapped up at 15-6 heading into the final quarter against inferior opposition coming off a hugely draining win over New Zealand.
Only twice have the Wallabies recorded two draws in a calendar year, with 2017 the only other time where there has been a couple of tied encounters in a 12-month block.
As far as draws go, these two were polar opposites and White made it crystal clear that Australia were off the mark tactically.
“Every time there is a draw there is a team that probably comes away with it being a winning draw and another team a losing draw. I certainly feel like we’re in the latter category,” White said. “That game was there for us to close out and we’re pretty disappointed we haven’t closed that out and learnt from Wellington.
“It was 15-6 and [the rain] was starting to come down. The wind was behind us and it felt like we played a lot in the middle of the field. [We] probably just [need] a better understanding that they’re the sort of moments and conditions where it’s probably better to play without the ball. They gave us a lot of ball and they gave us enough rope to strangle ourselves.”
Meanwhile, Argentina captain Pablo Matera has escaped suspension for pulling the hair of Brandon Paenga-Amosa, with SANZAAR deeming that it did not meet a red card threshold.