Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has leapt to the defence of Israel Folau, whose late blunder against Argentina has drawn widespread criticism from fans.
Cheika admits Folau squandered an easy chance to seal victory over Argentina in their Rugby Championship clash.
But he says Folau’s decision not to pass to an unmarked Bernard Foley was “irrelevant” in the grander scheme of things on Saturday night.
Folau had the ball in hand and was at a proverbial fork in the road seconds after the final siren sounded at Cbus Super Stadium on the Gold Coast, with Australia trailing 23-19.
He could have passed to his right, where Foley was completely open and looked certain to score in the corner.
Or, he could have kept the ball and sought the glory of the matchwinner for himself.
Folau chose the second option but butchered it completely, spilling the ball to ensure Los Pumas won their first match on Australian soil in 35 years.
The error drew a barrage of criticism from fans on social media.
That’s an all-time blunder from Folau. He passes, we win. It’s that simple.
— Hugh Cavill (@hughcavill) September 15, 2018
I can’t believe that form Folau. Literally all the defenders were on him and the winger had 2 metres of clear space in front of him. Pass and the Wallabies win the game.
The bloke is so cooked it’s not funny but Australian Rugby loves him.
— OG Dave (@Sharkydave44) September 15, 2018
Israel Folau has absolutely cost Australia that Test match. Sorry, but that's just what happened. #AUSvARG
— Vince Rugari (@VinceRugari) September 15, 2018
Israel Folau cost Australia that Test match. Sorry might be harsh but he chose to take on three tacklers when his mate was wide open.. also unsure why the commentators defend that… just selfish football. #AusvsArg
— Bryce Parker (@bryce_parker26) September 15, 2018
Cheika, however, said it was wrong to pin all the blame on him.
Asked if he thought the Wallabies would have won the game if Folau had passed to Foley, Cheika said: “Yeah, but it’s irrelevant.”
“It doesn’t come down to one instance. Yes, you win the game by the score, but the performance was still the same.
“If the last pass goes, that doesn’t change anything for the other 79 minutes and 59 seconds of what went on.
“That maybe keeps the illusion going, because you win.
“I still would have taken winning, mind you – don’t get me wrong. But if you’re fair dinkum you don’t want to be letting that cover up other issues.”
Cheika said the Wallabies lacked energy and enthusiasm in the key moments.
“And you have to be accountable for that,” he said.
“So many opportunities, so many chances, both in attack and defence … a lot of opportunities, big overlaps, chances to score, gone missing because of lack of clarity and lack of enthusiasm.
“One leads to the other, generally. You’re there early, you’re there first, you’re usually clear on what’s going to happen, you don’t make a mistake.
“We just closed our minds or weren’t in the moment and missed simple tackles that let guys through.
“That shouldn’t be happening at Test level.”
The defeat was Australia’s fifth in seven outings so far in 2018.