The Wallabies have much to ponder as they head into their summer holidays after a chastening defeat at the hands of arch enemies England on Saturday.
Michael Cheika will be a man under pressure, particularly given the horrendous second half performance that saw his men capitulate under a constant tide of English pressure.
The war of words between both coaches, once close teammates at Randwick and now big rivals, during the week set the scene for a pulsating if somewhat error-ridden encounter.
The Wallabies made an outstanding start, and no-one in Twickenham would have complained if they were 20 points to the good at half time. But the Aussies let England back into the game with a series of errors before being totally out-gunned in the second half, leaving Australian rugby once again facing more questions than answers in the off-season.
First half magic
There was much to admire about Cheika’s men in the first half. Messrs. Hooper, Folau and Pocock were terrific as usual and it felt like England were being cut to pieces whenever Folau or Kuridrani had the ball.
Twice the Wallabies were held up over the line with England somehow holding firm as wave after wave of green and gold came at them.
The turning point of the match undoubtedly came from a horrific pass from Nick Phipps to Sekope Kepu, allowing England to hack on with serial poacher Jonathan Joseph going over for England’s first try. Not for the first time has he done this to the Wallabies this year. England were never been in touch before this key moment in the game.
Second half shocker
The second half was a nightmare for the Wallabies and bordered on shocking, given how dominant they were in the first half. England were good but not that good and Australia simply imploded through a catalogue of blunders that let the poms in.
Contrast this to the explosive opening quarter with the Australians putting in a masterclass of sharp passing, slick handling and devastating footwork that left England grasping at shadows. How different it was in their last 40 minutes of the year with dropped balls, intercepted passes, knock-ons and general indecision blighting the Aussies into submission.
Watching England pounding the Wallaby line in the last few minutes was depressing for all Australian fans. If England had been more clinical in the final quarter, the scoreboard would have been extremely ugly.
It would be easy to blame end-of-season fatigue brought on by five successive weekends of Test match rugby but the fact of the matter is that both Ireland and England had half of their first teamers missing. Australia has had pockets of magic in both of these games but have unable to convert dominant periods into match-winning situations. Is this poor fitness and discipline, or extreme fatigue mixed in with some dodgy refereeing? The jury is out on this but I suspect all of these elements are true.
Where do the Wallabies go from here?
So, where to for the Wallabies now? There is no shortage of world-class players: Hooper, Pocock and Folau can lay claim to being the best in the world in their positions. Add in the ever improving Foley at fly half, a resurgent Will Genia and a sprinkling of talent through the likes of Haylett-Petty and Sean McMahon and it appears that the Australians are set fair for the 2019 World Cup.
Getting the Wallabies to gel appears to be the ongoing challenge that Michael Cheika has to solve going into the 2017 season.
Cheika would do well to actually look at how Eddie Jones has molded an under performing England team into an unbeaten juggernaut in 12 months. England do not possess the kind of talent that the Wallabies have at their disposal but they do have rapidly improving players who are utterly dedicated to being the best they can be under Eddie Jones’s tutelage.
Who should lead the Wallabies to the 2019 World Cup?
With three years to go until the World Cup in Japan, should the ARU take a big step and bring in Stephen Larkham as the head coach?
This would be undoubtedly harsh on Cheika given the exceptional 2015 World Cup campaign that he engineered but it may also be necessary if the Australians are going to be a contender in 2019.
Larkham had a stellar career with the Brumbies and the Wallabies, and commands great respect through the work he has done in Canberra. Could he be the man to get the Wallabies working as one and making the most of the personnel that they have?
The same could be said for Stephen Moore stepping down as captain and keeping his place in the side as the number one hooker. A change in direction with Michael Hooper taking over the captaincy might be the shot in the arm that Australian rugby needs.
As for England, they charge into the 2017 Six Nations with aspirations of overhauling the All Blacks should they be successful in winning the Grand Slam.
The men in white have tough games away to Ireland and Wales to look forward to but who would bet against them continuing their march towards the All Blacks crown?
They have added resilience to their growing list of strengths, by comprehensively beating a decent Argentinian outfit with just 14 men for most of the match. If they were to improve from their dozy starts and get more out of their backline, then this England team will unquestionably challenge the All Blacks in Japan.
Sparkling past, uncertain future for Australia
How times have changed over the last 12 months. The strutting brilliance of the Wallabies on show during that historic night at Twickenham where they humiliated their hosts and brought a nation to its knees is over.
The fact facing this hugely talented Australian team is that they have not worked out how to beat the All Blacks or the English over multiple attempts this season.
Unless something changes then it is difficult to see Australia being realistic challengers for the 2019 World Cup.