Wallabies: Assistant Dan McKellar defends coach Dave Rennie after defeat to Italy

Wallabies assistant coach Dan McKellar has reacted to suggestions Australia cannot win next year’s World Cup and defended the decision to rest so many key players following last week’s shock defeat to Italy .

Former football greats have criticized manager Dave Rennie, with some suggesting his position should be questioned ahead of next year’s highlight event in France.

No one has come on stronger than former skipper Stirling Mortlock, who said the Wallabies had no chance of winning the 2023 World Cup after their second three-test defeat in Europe.

‘That is Stirling’s opinion. Everyone has one and he’s allowed it,” said McKellar ahead of this weekend’s demanding test in Ireland.

“I agree? One hundred percent no.

“There’s a good group of footballers here and there’s also a small core of players who are still back in Australia. I think what you will find is that the 33 who go to next year’s World Cup are certainly good enough to win the trophy.”

The criticism came thick and fast from the 28-27 defeat in Florence, which was Australia’s third straight point on the European tour and first defeat to Italy.

“Of course we’re well aware of that (criticism from home),” McKellar said.

“I think I’ve never been in a more disappointed dressing room on a Saturday afternoon in Florence. We were destroyed.

“When you train at this level, when you lose, it feels like you have let the country down. We’ve definitely heard that and it’s something we need to thoroughly review.

“With professional rugby, you also have to learn to park it quickly enough and move on because we’re about to go up against what I think is the best team in the world on home soil.”

The biggest gripe most people had with Australia’s performance against Italy wasn’t so much what they did on the pitch but Rennie made 11 changes from the squad that narrowly went to France the week before.

A twelfth change was made just before kickoff due to injury, and while Rennie and his coaching staff matched fire, McKellar said rotations would always occur on such a long tour.

“The important thing is that Dave doesn’t choose the team by himself. There are many others who have responsibility for selection,” he said.

“It’s a five Test tour and it’s a tough tour we’ve been asked to play on. We love the experience, but from a rugby physical perspective, it takes a toll on players’ bodies, especially at the end of a long year.

“It has always been in our plans to give everyone in the group an opportunity. The disappointing thing is that the guys who played on Saturday didn’t finish the job.”

The Wallabies outscored the Italians four tries to three, but conceded an impressive 16 penalties compared to just nine for the home side.

McKellar has been left lamenting their lack of discipline, especially as it’s an ongoing problem the coaches have been trying to resolve in training, and he knows they’ll be in big trouble if they don’t improve against Ireland, the best team in the world.

“It’s certainly frustrating. It’s frustrating for everyone involved, even the gamers,” she said.

“Rugby is a complex game and you will indulge in penalties, but it’s silly penalties that hurt us at critical moments.

“It’s a huge focus for us in training with consequences in and around it. We look into it thoroughly and we certainly made great strides and improvements in the first two games, but against the Italians we fell back into bad habits.”

Originally published as ‘Feel like you’ve let the country down’: Wallabies under fire after historic loss