TOKYO — Discipline has long been a problem for Michael Cheika’s Wallabies and it seems that even with all the discussion around dangerous tackles at the Rugby World Cup, Australia still haven’t got the message.

After insisting his side “tackle middle” some 10 days ago, Cheika may need to clearly define what he believes the “middle” represents as the Wallabies took up real estate that looked far more like the shoulder and neck in Saturday’s victory over Uruguay.

Both Adam Coleman and Lukhan Salakai-Loto were sent to the sin-bin for high tackles, while Kurtley Beale was also penalised in what was a dreadful first half of defensive technique from the Australians.

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Had this been a knockout game at the tournament and not a pool match against the team ranked 18th in the world, then the Wallabies would likely have come out on the wrong side of the ledger and would instead already be on their way home to Australia.

Make no mistake about it, if the Australians are to advance beyond what is looking like a quarterfinal with England then they simply must keep 15 players on the field. This Wallabies team is not good enough to beat the world’s best teams when playing down a man for 10 minutes, let alone 20, so an improved disciplinary effort must start this Friday against Georgia.

It is inconceivable that given Reece Hodge’s suspension, the fallout from that incident and the various red cards and post-match citings that have occurred since then that, somehow, the Wallabies haven’t got the message that they must lower their tackling height. Saturday’s first-half shocker was simply not good enough.

“We are giving away too many penalties full stop,” Cheika said of his side’s discipline on Saturday. “You can’t be winning by 45 and still lose the penalty count, we’ve got to stop giving away penalties. One was for kicking the ball out of a ruck. That’s a penalty and we know that. We have to tidy that up.

“But I’m not going to talk about tackles, I’m going to steer clear of that.”

Cheika’s decision to not specifically go into the high tackles from Saturday suggests the coach may have finally realised he has a problem on his hands. It is one that he and defensive coach Nathan Grey must address before Friday’s Test with Georgia when the Wallabies will likely revert to what they see as their strongest side in preparation for a quarterfinal the following week.

Is it technique? Is it timing? Are they being lured in by the fool’s gold of a loose ball-carry? Whatever the case, Australia can in no way insist they confidently “tackle middle” given what transpired across the first 40 minutes in Oita.

To lose the penalty count 12-5, however, should come as no surprise to anyone who has consistently watched the Wallabies over the past two years.

Data compiled by ESPN after the Wallabies’ loss to the Springboks in South Africa in July showed that that Australia had won just five of 28 penalty counts across the 2017 and 2018 seasons. For a team that hasn’t hummed since their run to the final in England four years ago, such a lopsided disciplinary record is only making the task significantly harder.

And they still haven’t quite adjusted to the refereeing of the ruck at the World Cup as Uruguay were able to apply significant pressure to the breakdown and give scrum-half Nic White all kinds of issues as he attempted to clear the ball.

That fact wasn’t lost on Matt Toomua, who at least ensured the Wallabies played a more direct style through the opening 20 minutes when they had previously tried to go wide too early against both Fiji and Wales.

“Yeah we did well, we got seven tries so anytime you do that you’ve played alright,” Toomua said Saturday. “Obviously there’s a few things we can improve around the ruck, our discipline as well, let us down, we were down to 14 men for about 20 minutes there.

“So a few things to work on but overall some good footy; as I said, the ruck is particularly an area that we need to sharpen up.”

If Australia do go on to face England in the quarterfinals – Eddie Jones’ side face France to decide top spot in Pool C on Saturday – then they need to look no further than their arch rivals’ game against Argentina on Saturday.

The Pumas made an excellent start and were probably a tad unlucky not to come away with an early try before Jonny May scored for England after nine minutes. Ten minutes later, however, and Argentina were down to 14 men after Tomas Lavanini was rightfully shown red for a dangerous tackle on Owen Farrell.

The Pumas’ goose was cooked from that point onwards as England slowly picked apart a defensive line that was always going to feel the pinch when playing a man down. Jones’ side were far more patient and diligent in opening up Argentina than the Springboks had been a night earlier against Italy, an approach which earned warm praise from their Australian coach.

In some good news, Australia look to be among the fittest teams at the tournament while they went some way to absolving themselves of the horror starts against Wales and Fiji by building into the game against Uruguay.

But a prolonged stay through the knockout phase looks highly unlikely unless they really do start to “tackle middle” and make Cheika out to be a man of his word.



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