The Wallabies have struggled with penalties, with ill-discipline being the most frustrating part of their recent struggles. The worrying trend of conceding penalties continued under coach Dave Rennie, with Australia conceding more penalties than any other tier-one team in 2023.
Penalties at the international level can be a significant issue because they can directly convert into points, or improve field position for the opposing team. In 2023, Australia conceded an average of 13.29 penalties per game in tier-one matches, which was three more than the average for such teams.
Penalty counts often reflect whether a team is meeting or falling short of expectations. Australia’s poor discipline was evident in their penalty differential, which was the worst in Tier One by far, at -4.43 penalties per game. This was a significant issue for the team, as it allowed opponents to capitalize on the penalties, making it easier to defeat the Wallabies. This was in contrast to teams like Fiji, who achieved unlikely success due to their discipline. Their penalty differential was +3.83, which allowed them to grind down opponents and take opportunities for penalties.
Although winning the penalty difference in a match is likely to reflect the match’s points difference, some teams managed to overcome ill-discipline and win matches, as was evident in the World Cup when Fiji dominated the penalty difference but still lost in a close match against Wales.
Discipline in international rugby provides teams with a margin for error. While it is not impossible to win despite conceding penalties, it relies on outperforming the opposition in every other facet of the game. The Wallabies had a tough time dealing with penalties, despite some improvements in certain areas.
The team also struggled to maintain better discipline during matches, with improved discipline coming at the expense of other areas. This was particularly evident in their upset loss to Fiji, where their discipline struggles were highlighted by their penalty differential, which was the joint worst in 2023.
Overall, the Wallabies’ penalty struggles have worsened in the past five years, with poor discipline undermining their performance. Genuine improvements under Dave Rennie were overshadowed by this issue, leading to a lack of success for the team.
To bring back success, the Wallabies must focus on improving their discipline. Better accuracy at the tackle and breakdown, less laziness in the offside line, and more emphasis on referee management are crucial. These changes could set the stage for a better year in 2024, helping the Wallabies reclaim their standing in international rugby.