Wallabies still alive at Rugby World Cup but don’t deserve to be

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SAINT-ETIENNE, France — All Australia can do now is wait and hope.

Wait and hope that Portugal can pull off a miracle Rugby World Cup upset against Fiji in Toulouse next week and in doing so deny them the bonus point they lost. After the Pacific Islanders struggled to get past Georgia on Saturday afternoon, such an event doesn’t appear to be the same long shot as earlier in the week.

But if that result is to be expected, the Wallabies will be waiting for Eddie Jones and Rugby Australia, as the decision to wash away a record-low World Cup campaign amid ongoing reports that the coach is preparing to stage an exit. Goes to Japan.

And the hard truth is that this Wallabies team still doesn’t deserve a pulse in France. While their 34-14 win over Portugal on Sunday evening looked comfortable on paper, there was enough inexplicable play and absolutely perfect dumb rugby to have the Australian fans in the stands at Stade Geoffre-Guichard in Saint-Etienne shifting nervously in their seats.

“We only had one objective this week and that was to stay alive and we’re still alive,” Jones said post match. “I’m not interested in speculating about Portugal and Fiji next week. I’m pleased for the players. They’ve worked really hard, as they’ve had all tournament, and they deserve some credit for this performance today.”

Whether it was Samu Kerevi’s raised arm replacement — yes, it happened again — more bottled-up lineouts, loose ball placement at an attacking breakdown, or Matt Fessler’s own yellow card for an infamous infringement, the Wallabies produced some mediocre rugby and then practically wasted the last half hour of the match. under the pump.

Australia went down to 13 men for eight minutes of the second half, following the suspensions of Foisler and Kerevi, and managed just seven points in that period, with Portugal riding an incredible wave of momentum and enthusiastic support. A crowded red bath.

At that point the margin was still 15 points and the Wallabies were safely in possession, but as has been the case in Australian rugby over the past week it somehow felt closer. And the 41,342 fans who felt it was cheering for Portugal would only add to that Australian anxiety.

But a Marika Koroibete try after a surging run from Kerevi through the heart of the Portuguese defense would have any momentary thought of a miraculous comeback — and one that would be even more embarrassing for Australian rugby.

Earlier, had it not been for Portugal center Pedro Bettencourt’s first-half sin-binning, second-half excitement could have hit astronomical levels for the Wallabies. After scoring the first try of the game, and sending the pro-Portugal crowd into a frenzy in the process, Bettencourt hit Isaiah Peres in the head with his shoulder and earned a 10-minute breather for his troubles.

The Wallabies scored two converted tries while Bettencourt was in the bin, and another soon after his return, to take charge of the game and clinch the bonus-point — all they needed to keep their campaign alive for another week. — at half time.

It was taken care of after seven minutes of recovery and from there Australia set out for a comfortable half-hour close, only for the momentum to shift completely in favor of Os Lobos. Had it not been for a desperate try-saving tackle from Andrew Kellaway in the left-hand corner, the Portuguese would have gone in close to Australia at half-time.

The Wallabies created their first-half breathing space behind the carrying power of Angus Bell, who was alongside a monstrous no. 8 and man of the match Rob Valetini. When the dust settles on this disastrous few months under Jones — or if the coach disappears in a cloud of smoke — the Wallabies rebuild could be built around the forward pairing.

Bell had a hand in Australia’s first try, setting up the platform for a big carry from Valetini, who then popped Richie Arnold to score next to the sticks; Before the Wallabies No. 1 did it all by itself from close range for Australia’s second. Bell added a breakdown turnover for good measure, before going on for a tireless 76-minute performance that underlined his class.

Australia’s third five-pointer was scored by captain Dave Porecki in their first truly dominant driving maul, with Fraser McWright crossing for the bonus-point try after half-time.

Bale and Valetini were supported by Tom Hooper in defense and Peres in attack. Marika Koroibete was guilty of a terrible defensive lesson that allowed Portugal to score their first try of the game, but the winger earned himself a point with a number of crunching tackles by Portuguese players. The pro-Portuguese crowd didn’t like one early in the second half, but Koroibete had enough of a hand-wrap to be cleared by the TMO.

But that was not the case for Kerevi, who again led with his arm in flashbacks to the heated clash with Wales in Tokyo and paid the price. While there was some speculation surrounding the move to Reese Patchell four years ago, Kerevi may have some complaints about his approval this time around. Having previously said he has not addressed his running style, Sunday afternoon’s incident is evidence that sentiment may need to be reconsidered.

In the end, Portugal finished with 98 more run metres, five more clean breaks and 11 defenders to beat than Australia; They ran the Wallabies ragged, but lacked the finishing polish and touch of patience to make things really interesting.

“Today I am pleased for the players,” added Jones. “They played with a lot of toughness, a lot of character. Sometimes we were clinical and sometimes we weren’t, where we need to improve. But I’m really pleased for the players. It adds to my mood.”

Gathering halfway through the minutes before the final whistle, the Wallabies cut a tired and dejected collective image as they hugged each other and shared a few gentle words of consolation.

But then they followed their opponents on a lap around the Stade Geoffre-Guichard, thanking the Wallabies fans who had made the trip to the other side of the world to cheer them on and who would be just as disappointed to be with the team. The results of the last few weeks are themselves.

Australia’s campaign isn’t over yet, and they’ll have a few days off to regroup before returning to training and hoping to go to high heaven after the team that struggled so successfully on Sunday afternoon — and caused them so many problems defensively — only in Fiji next weekend. An all-time upset may not happen, but could also deny Simon Raiwalui’s side a bonus point in the process.

Despite the effort and commitment Portugal showed on Sunday, that pair of requirements unfolding simultaneously remains unlikely.

And such a result would only mask a campaign that has tumbled from one disaster to the next — and for a few fleeting moments on Sunday evening in Saint-Étienne it looked like it might do it again.

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