If the previous nine losses hadn’t sounded enough of a warning, then Saturday night’s carnage at Suncorp Stadium surely triggered the alarm bells at Rugby Australia HQ.
Australia’s best against Aotearoa’s champions… there was no place to hide as Super Rugby’s litmus test was conducted.
The results were frightening for Wallabies fans as the Crusaders made mincemeat of the Reds in a 63-28 humbling in which the twinkle-toed Richie Mo’unga (31 points) outscored Queensland’s finest on his own.
There has been plenty of merit in the COVID-enforced domestic competitions to reset Super Rugby and reignite the tribalism on which the game has been built.
But Australia’s proximity and regular encounters with the Kiwis has always been a double-edged sword and Brad Thorn’s Reds were cut to ribbons on this occasion.
“I guess it was a bit of a reality check tonight,” said Reds No.8 Harry Wilson, the best of a losing cause.
“I thought their first 20 minutes was unreal – every opportunity they got they took. They’re a quality outfit.”
Australia is now 0-10 after two rounds of the trans-Tasman competition and hopes of having representation in the grand final appear forlorn.
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They went backwards on the weekend.
Late conversions could have given the Aussies a win and a draw in round one but no-one came within cooee of causing an upset this time around.
The Force were the most competitive in a 25-15 loss to the Highlanders but they never seriously threatened.
And so all eyes were on the Reds who had replenished their starting XV with Wallabies.
“We had a saying in the old days, welcome to first grade,” former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said on Stan Sport.
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“It was first grade tonight, they (Crusaders) were top quality. They play you like a piano accordion. They’ll spread you out, then they’ll tighten you up.
“Then they’ll kick the ball to width and then they’ll tighten you up again. The Reds were just following their code the whole way through. They got a bit rattled and they’ll lead you on a merry dance.”
Triple international Allana Ferguson went as far as to say the Crusaders’ support play was “probably the best I’ve seen in any code.”
Australia lost 40 straight games to New Zealand rivals in 2016-18 and while no-one is predicting a repeat of that, nor could you rule it out entirely.
“The coach in me is not going to go for the positives thing,” Cheika said.
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“We got soundly beaten and sometimes you’ve got to suck it up and deal with it… We’ve been pumped alright, but you’ve just got to fight back next week. Mourn, get over it and then get back on the bike next week and get back and win the next game.”
Former Wallabies lock Justin Harrison was concerned about mental scarring carrying over into the international season.
“What we can’t have is matches like this continue to have momentum going across the ditch as we head into a very tough Test campaign,” Harrison said.
“I’m filthy about the loss, make no bones about it. The Crusaders, we can pontificate about them all night. We want the Reds to park that as quick as possible, get back on the field next week and rip in and show us what it means to wear that jersey.”