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The end of an era

Jeremy Balkin, Rugby365's Voice from Down Under, tells us why he feels the golden age of Australian rugby is "sadly" over. His view follows the Wallabies' third successive loss, a 30-13 hammering at the hands of the All Blacks at the weekend.

With the Wallabies reeling form three consecutive defeats, Jeremy Balkin – a reader from Australia – reflects on what went wrong and what needs putting right.

The professional revolution of Rugby started in Australia in 1995 and for the most part, Australia has dominated international Rugby. It was a dark irony that the 'Wallaby Team of the Decade' was named in Sydney this week. This was made even more prophetic given the parlous state of the current Wallaby side.

Many pundits have been calling for change in the Wallaby side since 2003. I steadfastly defended the coach, captain and players being criticized because I am very attached to the Wallabies and could see no wrong. I had full faith in them, and they came within seconds of winning the 2003 World Cup.

But times have changed, the game has changed and the opposition has changed. Most notably, South Africa and New Zealand decided to pick their team based on Super 12 form and with the long-term view and told a few senior players who weren't necessarily performing at their former peak to consider other opportunities.

Changes were made, some proved correct and some didn't but the re-building process began. Consistency and brilliance weren't the order of the day in the beginning, but it is now.

No one can deny that the current Springbok and All Black sides are anything short of awesome.

The South African forward pack is scary. Smith, van Niekerk, Burger, Matfield and Botha are monsters and I think their average age is only 24. Frankly, that is scary. With a seemingly endless supply of mammoth props and John Smith at hooker, this forward pack will virtually dominate world rugby for many years to come.

The All Black backline is another example of youth and talent. John Mitchell made tough decisions in 2003 and was much criticized for them. He lost his job over one lost match. Today, who could argue that Daniel Carter, Leon MacDonald, Aaron Mauger, Byron Kelleher, Mils Muliaina and Joe Rokocoko are anything short of a lethal combination at the back? 

Now for the once great Wallabies. In all honesty, opposition teams don't look at today's team as they perhaps did five or 10 years ago. Sadly, there is a core of players in the side, who have been there for years, achieved the higher honours and are now in the twilight of their careers.

There are plenty of great up-and-coming players out there who can't get a chance.

Australia clearly needs renewal in the key positions. Saturday night's thrashing to the All Blacks was flattering. Had the kiwis not been jet-lagged, beaten up the week before by the Boks and had some decisions go their way, the margin would have been more like 40 points.

It was so glaringly obvious the holes in the Australian side on the weekend. This is not exactly new, but they were exploited with such devastating callousness. At hooker, front row, fly-half, scrum-half, outside centre and fullback. That's at least seven players.

The line-out is a perennial problem for the Wallabies. Teams are exploiting it to their advantage and they're paying the price.

I find it hard difficult to justify that the current choices were the best Australian Super 12 hookers this year, nor have they justified their current place based on performance this year or last. Adam Freier from the Waratahs, maybe Huia Edmonds from Western Province or just about anyone should be given a go!

At the front row, I have no answers. Maybe the Aussie selectors should venture into South Africa and literally buy a bunch of giant teenage props whilst they're still young enoughmost two seasons left. Lachlan MacKay maybe should be used in the short-term. He's a big kid who played well for the Waratahs and effectively takes the ball to the line. Elton Flatley can hardly be considered a replacement now or in the future. Matt Giteau is injured and maybe should be moulded into a No.9 to cover George Gregan and add some new spark. Anyone heard of Craig Wing?

George Gregan is fantastic and his defence is superb. His delivery is something else. The key to the All Blacks is quick play and the speed of their ball recycling. Australia is almost in slow motion. By the time the fly-half gets the ball, the opposition backs are already in their faces. Remember Ellis Park? Matt Henjak is great, but young and inexperienced. Chris Whitaker is not the answer. Why not try Matt Giteau?

As a matter of national significance, the Prime Minister should order the coach to put Clyde Rathbone at No.13 instead of the status quo, or anyone else for that matter. I'll even put up my hand!

Drew Mitchell, what a find and what a future! But, the minute the guy he replaced is fit again he'll be back in the No.15 jersey and Mitchell will just be left to gather dust. What a disgrace!

It's the same old story. The older, injured guys who frankly should reconsider their future in Australia get injured, and they get replaced by guys who have generally rotted on the bench forever instead of replacing them and with the more talented youngsters who shined in Super 12. Mitchell is a great example of the future, but there are literally dozens more.

For all the key positions mentioned, I could find you a replacement who could perform. They may not be a better player (yet) but with crucial experience and time they will be. I can at least bet that the result would not have been any worse than Saturday night had they've been playing!

The golden era of Australian Rugby is over, sadly. There is just over 18 months until the next World Cup. If the Wallabies don't make changes and start picking their side on form, then the Tri-Nations next year should be renamed the 'Two Nations' and the World Cup will be a write-off for the Aussies.

Yes they'll make the last four in the competition, but that's because there are only 4 quality international sides. The All Blacks and the Springboks are so far and away the top two nations at the moment it's not funny.

Do you agree with Jeremy?

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