It’s not been an enjoyable few weeks for Australia’s rugby faithful.
The British and Irish Lions marched into their country and outfought them to take the series, whilst their two major club sides, ACT Brumbies and Queensland Reds, failed to qualify for the Super 15 Rugby semifinals.
The responsibility now rests on the two teams to restore their nation’s standing in the game by emerging from the playoffs to reach the final four.
Just one month ago, things were far rosier. The Brumbies invited the Lions into their Canberra backyard and served up a display of fearless tackling to dispatch of their more illustrious opponents, 14-12.
It was the first time a provincial side had beaten the Lions in over 15 years, their last defeat coming at the hands of South African side Northern Transvaal. Australia was surely ready to defeat its European opponents.
But what unfolded over the next few weeks saw all that optimism unravel. A catalogue of errors and late penalty drama handed the Lions their first Test, and although the Wallabies recovered to take the second, they were outclassed by their rivals in the decider.
Brumbies utility back Christian Lealiifano will be desperate to bring success to his nation. His international debut came to an end after just 52 seconds in the first Lions Test after he knocked himself out clattering into opponent Jonathan Davies, but he did recover to start the other two matches.
He currently has the third highest points total in Super 15, and his kicking will be imperative to his side’s success. The Brumbies are likely to gain lots of early penalties as their eager opposition, the Central Cheetahs, lack the composure required in big matches in their first ever playoff match.
The Reds can only hope 2011 top-scorer Quade Cooper returns to form as they head to New Zealand to face Super Rugby’s most successful side, the Crusaders. They can draw strength from the final two years ago, when they triumphed to take the title, 18-13, but repeating it in their opponents stadium is a different matter entirely.
Whilst it can’t be referred to as a crisis—after all, only two teams from three nations can progress automatically to the semifinals each season—it should be enough to send warning signals across the Aussie rugby community.
If Sunday evening comes round and Australia are without Super Rugby representation, it would be a very sombre moment for the nation.