Super Rugby partly to blame for Australia's Rugby World Cup woes, says assistant coach

SAINT-ETIENNE, France (AP) — Super Rugby is partly to blame for Australia lying on the brink of its worst Rugby World Cup result, assistant coach Pierre-Henry Broncan said on Thursday.

The Wallabies are set to miss the quarterfinals for the first time after historic defeats to Fiji and Wales. Broncan believed their inability to manage tight games was a major contributing factor.

Head coach Eddie Jones brought a young squad to France — only eight of the 33 players had Rugby World Cup experience — to rebuild for the 2027 World Cup. But Broncan said the players were already handicapped by not facing prolonged pressure in a Super Rugby weakened by the loss of South African teams to European club competitions.

“If you want a big difference between the (French) Top 14 and European Cup and your Super Rugby competition in Australia and with New Zealand, it's the pressure,” he said. "In France, we have pressure every game because there is a massive thing about relegation or qualification (for the European Cup places). It's very important for the European teams.

"In Super Rugby there is no relegation, you play just to win Super Rugby, (which) is a very good thing but just between New Zealand and Australian teams.

"You will see the next games in the World Cup — the quarterfinals, semifinals or final — there will be massive pressure on the pitch. A lot of games, they will finish with a very close score, and the last five or 10 minutes you can win or lose a game.

“Today, our team is not that (ready to deal with pressure). During halftime against Wales I was sure we were going to win the game. Ten points (the deficit to Wales) is nothing. But we start the second half and we concede a penalty and that was it. We need to change that in the future.”

The Wales game wasn't the only winnable game lost this year. He felt the Wallabies should have beaten Argentina in Sydney in July but lost 34-31 to a last-minute try, and they led New Zealand 17-3 in Dunedin in August and lost 23-20 on a last-minute penalty.

“It's not just a (problem) with the Australia national team, I am sure about it. The Brumbies (are) a good team (to imitate) because they have a very tough team and they can beat New Zealand sides. The other teams in Australia, it was very tough, very difficult for (them) to beat New Zealand teams. Sorry ... but it is a reality. We need to change that firstly.”

The Brumbies were fourth in Super Rugby Pacific — the only Australian team in the top five — and reached the semifinals.

Australia and Waratahs center Lalakai Foketi agreed with Broncan. He said he was deliberately rested for the wrong games in Super Rugby Pacific.

“I did get rostered off a couple of games, against the Blues and the Crusaders, our two hardest games,” Foketi said. “Those are the games you want to play. Pierre is right — if we want to learn how to handle pressure then we've got to play those games and we've got to beat the teams that are up at the top of the Super Rugby ladder.”

Broncan backed Jones to continue as the Australia coach, and suggested they train together much more often to try and bridge the gulf between Super Rugby and test rugby.

“Before COVID, with South African teams, Japanese teams, Jaguares, it was a big competition ... a very tough competition. Today, South African teams play the European Cup and it was a benefit to the northern hemisphere,” he said.

Broncan led Castres to the Top 14 final in 2022 but was fired seven months later after its first home loss in two years. Before then, he'd coached at Toulouse and Bath. He joined Jones' staff as a maul consultant in April.


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