Who were Australia’s best and worst players

After the neck rolls, should some heads roll?

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie made the point to Drew Mitchell in the aftermath of the Wallabies’ 13-10 loss to Ireland that the home team conceded more penalties in Dublin. But there are penalties and then there are brutal coach killers.

Put Folau Fainga’a’s yellow card brain snap into the latter category. The hooker’s form is in the basement right now but that staggering moment of ill-discipline was as predictable as it was avoidable. He looks long odds to be trusted by Rennie beyond this tour.

The Wallabies were on the attack when he committed the neck roll penalty – one of four in the game conceded by Australia. The whole Wallabies team had been put on notice by Ben O’Keeffe, who stripped an early Nic White try due to a neck roll call against Dave Porecki.

Folau Fainga'a of Australia, left, is shown a yellow card by referee Ben O'Keeffe during the Bank of Ireland Nations Series match between Ireland and Australia at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.  (Photo By David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Folau Fainga’a of Australia, left, is shown a yellow card by referee Ben O’Keeffe. (Photo By David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

The Fainga’a card was a dumbfounding moment in a year of them.

Morgan Turinui is the most restrained member of the Stan Sport panel. Even he couldn’t help himself.

‘Why are you doing that?’ asked Sean Maloney of Fainga’a as O’Keeffe held up the yellow card.

Turinui’s response: “The reason why is because you lack the discipline and maturity of a Test player.”

Here’s who starred and who stumbled in the loss to Ireland

Fainga’a’s moment made him an obvious target post-match.

“He sums up the Wallabies doesn’t he? That inconsistency,” said Jim Tucker on The Roar Instant Reaction podcast.

“I praised him this year for that more dynamic involvement away from just the rolling maul stuff, getting some strong carries and being a bit fired up at times. But the inconsistency of being the neck roll guy, missing a line out throw, whatever, some of those are hard to cop.”

Brett McKay had Fainga’a as his falling stock from the game.

“I’ll happily throw Folau Fainga’a in there because he came on for Dave Porecki early on in the first half,” said McKay.

“He was in place when there had been penalties. He was in place when the warning was given to both teams that the next high-contact neck roll will be a yellow card, and he still went there. And that just shows a lack of rugby nous, general brains. I don’t know.”

Harry Jones, also on the Instant Reaction podcast, felt the yellow card situation was a failure of leadership at multiple levels within the Wallabies.

The team has now had 13 yellow cards and one red in losing 10 of their 14 Tests in 2022.

“It’s very difficult to judge this team right now. I guess the number one thing is they should start well, and then when you start that well, and you score and Nic White’s try’s taken away because of unnecessary neck roll, and then you keep neck rolling.

“That is a way of cleaning a ruck that has been coached.

“You just have to go back to coaching standards, leaders, captain, vice-captain, pack leaders, whatever, someone’s got to stop and say, no matter what you do, for the next 30 minutes, no one touches a neck because Ben O’Keeffe is all about the neck today.

Nic White of Australia tussles with Andrew Porter of Ireland during the Bank of Ireland Nations Series match between Ireland and Australia at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.  (Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Nic White of Australia tussles with Andrew Porter. (Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

“That’s Test footy. I don’t know who to single out for that, because it almost feels unfair. It feels like a corporate problem, that the Wallabies are managing to stuff up their good beginnings. And then second, just continue doing something that’s pissing the referee off.”

The Wallabies were knocking on the door for a famous win over the world’s No.1-ranked team near the death when Jake Gordon was penalised.

“He has been terrific for the Waratahs every time he plays but it just doesn’t translate to Test football,” said Tucker.

Rennie brought back some of his big guns after the shock loss to Italy a week after, but he faced a significant casualty ward afterward with seven players hurt in the game.

Hunter Paisami has a medial ligament injury while there are fears that Taniela Tupou might have done an Achilles.

There were some encouraging signs for the under-fire Wallabies coach despite the loss and human wreckage.

Jordan Petaia had his best game in a Wallabies jersey after replacing Paisami and World Cup winner Tim Horan says he’s the front-runner to wear it at next year’s tournament.

“Jordie Petaia if he stay fit for the next 12 months he’ll start in the No.15 jersey at the Rugby World Cup,” said Horan on the Stan Sport coverage. “He’s an outstanding player, an X factor player.”

Turinui added: “He’s a light and shade player and we’ve seen so much of the lightness this evening.”

Tucker chose Petaia as his stock rising from the game.

“Jordie has had a really mixed year. He seemed like he was almost guaranteed some time at fullback earlier in the year, which was middling,” Tucker said.

“He just needed to come on but with no pressure, which was perfectly created by Paisami being injured and going off after three minutes.

“He just had a clear and free hit at the game and played really nicely with no dumb stuff.

“He showed what he can do with those quick changes of pace, got through the line a little bit in a game where no one got through the line.

“And then when he had that little blink to score a try just put on the afterburners and took it really well.”

Tucker was also impressed by Mark Nawaqanitawase on the wing, praising him for a spectacular grab of a high kick.

Harry Jones agreed. “I liked Marky Mark – thought he was very busy,” Jones said.

“He did a very good job of staying in touch. And I think that Ireland usually plays with the touchline as an extra defender so he did a very good job of staying in, keeping the ball alive.”

Jones also had praise for the locks – starters Cadeyrn Neville and Nick Frost and replacement Will Skelton, whose incredible play that sucked in four defenders set up the try for Petaia.

“The two locks faced a proper examination because James Ryan was in peak form and Tadgh Furlong is one of the best tight forwards in the world. And I feel like that was a standoff,” said Jones.

McKay added Jed Holloway to the list of impressive Australian forwards.

“He got through a mountain of defence, was good in the lineout, pulled off a couple of lineout steals when it counted, carried pretty well,” said McKay.

Tucker also called out Michael Hooper, who took over as captain after the departure of James Slipper.

“We can’t ignore that Hooper did what a number seven should do,” Tucker said.

“He made two super steals – his involvement all around the ball was significant. If we could get those two steals a game from Michael Hooper …

“Maybe I’m a dinosaur just thinking I want to number seven who just gets a couple steals. It changes the whole tide of the game. And the ones he got were significant, so big plus to Michael Hooper.”

The game ended on an error from flyhalf Bernard Foley, who continues to divide fans.

“Nic White and Bernard Foley have done some really good things as a partnership,” said Tucker. “There will be people bagging of course. But Foley’s two tackles when they were down to 13 men were extremely good.”

Tucker felt the Wallabies were tactically improved.

“They didn’t play too much footy. I think there was a clear instruction that kicking and not having the ball would be an advantage in this game in some ways,” said Tucker.

“So they kicked a bit better. Some of the things aerially were much better. Like Nawaqanitawase catching a kick ahead and Petaia catching a kick ahead. They were important.

“Foley’s kicking for touch – there’ll still be moaners out there saying he’s a pop gun, but he kicked for touch nicely. Took the pressure on his shoulders from him.

“They had those raids, applying pressure in the Irish 22, where they kept the ball for 20 phases or 10 phases.”

But there was a sense of a missed opportunity with Skelton reduced to a bench role.

“You might have thought we could have Will Skelton on just for 60 seconds in any of those moments,” Tucker said.

“Late in the game when he attracted four players to stop him that finally created a mismatch and a bit of a disruption in the Irish defense and bang Petaia scores a try. There was some good things just good, steady and smart rugby.”

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