Red faces all round in Wallabies' spring tour fiasco

How much will the Wallabies feel the loss of Kerevi? (1:08)

Sam Bruce and Christy Doran discuss the impact of the Wallabies being without hard-charging centre Samu Kerevi. (1:08)

When the dust settles on this dramatic week in Australian rugby, all those involved should acknowledge that the entire episode could have been handled a whole lot better.

After a brilliant few weeks on the field, and the successful staging of the closing four rounds of the Rugby Championship, the unfamiliar feeling that Australian rugby might finally be getting its Gilberts in a row began to take hold.

Smell that? Optimism. Could this five-match winning streak actually hit six? Seven? Eight!

But how quickly that has now shifted to utter embarrassment and this improving Wallaby team has been reduced from a position of increasing strength, to one that is now without its most influential player of the season and another cornerstone of the successful blueprint.

How coach Dave Rennie is able to park the disruption and prepare his team for Sunday week's Test against Scotland will be the toughest test of his coaching tenure yet. Doing it against the backdrop that both he and Scott Johnson must share some of the blame, only makes the task harder.

Make no mistake, once each of Samu Kerevi, Sean McMahon and Quade Cooper shared reservations about how their Japanese clubs might react to their participation in the U.K. leg of the spring tour, as Rennie revealed on Tuesday, the situation should then have been resolved before the Wallabies departed Australia.

Once they flew out for Japan, and certain players were left at home because of the belief that all three players would then move on to the U.K., even if that was to be delayed by a week, it was always going to be challenging to replace them at short notice.

Noah Lolesio will head north once the "appropriate paperwork" is completed, Rennie confirmed on Thursday, and other players may well be added, but it is far from an ideal situation.

Any backflip was going to leave the Wallabies vulnerable, and that is no place to be in professional sport, even more so in the COVID era. Therefore, it's understandable that Rugby Australia chief executive Andy Marinos described the trio's decision as disappointing, and reinforced those comments in an interview with ESPN on Thursday.

"It's disappointing, it's obviously disappointing that we haven't had the confirmation of the players," Marinos said. "I think my earlier comments stand true, if there was that initial risk, we should have known about it a bit earlier. There's always two sides to a story...what we do know is that under the regulations is that the players are available, or need to be made available, and just back to my point, my understanding was that the clubs were certainly not standing in the way of the players."

Many have pointed the finger at player agent Anthony Picone, who manages both Kerevi and McMahon, and events of the past few years - including the departure of three Reds players at the start of the pandemic - make him an easy target in the eyes of those at Rugby Australia.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, meanwhile, some Japanese contracts have clauses that read if a player is injured while not representing the club - instead in Test rugby as the case may be - then that contract can be voided.

Without knowing whether such a clause exists in Kerevi's deal, you can understand why he would have been wary of touring having already suffered an ankle injury in the final Rugby Championship Test.

Unlike Cooper, Kerevi had gone straight from the Japanese Top League season into a sevens camp, from which he was selected in the Olympic squad for Tokyo. He then answered Rennie's call to bolster the Wallabies squad from the second week of Rugby Championship, with a few hits of hotel quarantine thrown in for good measure.

Kerevi had, up until last Saturday's Test in Japan, served as the Wallabies battering ram and chief line breaker. And his absence left a huge hole in Australia's attack in Oita.

Both Kerevi and Cooper took to social media on Thursday evening, expressing their heartbreak at having to withdraw from the team, but also to share their gratitude at having had the chance to return to the Wallabies when both had previously probably reconciled the idea that their Test careers were already over.

You can make your own mind up as to whom Kerevi's closing "don't ever question my love for it [the jersey]" remark was aimed at.

But the players aren't blameless here either.

Knowing how their Japanese clubs would react to their wishes to tour, all three players should have made it completely clear just how strong that opposition was likely to be, rather than merely "raising concerns" as Rennie revealed each had done while they were in camp on the Gold Coast.

Reading between the lines it appears their chances of touring the U.K. were never higher than 50/50, at best. But such a situation led to Rennie, Johnson and co. heading down the diplomatic route; simply taking the players under Regulation 9 was never seriously on the table.

What is imperative now is that all parties learn from the situation, and the mistakes of the past few weeks aren't repeated. Can you imagine if this had been next year's spring tour, just 10 months out from a World Cup? Disaster.

The level of scorn Rugby Australia, specifically the committee looking into overseas eligibility and an update to the Giteau Law, is feeling from the entire episode should begin to subside, particularly once they look back at the Rugby Championship and the impact Kerevi and Cooper had on this Wallabies team.

Without them, Australia's five-match winning streak might well have been a pipe dream.

And then there is the fact that it was new ground for Australian rugby, too. Cause and effect has come into play quickly, with results both for the good and bad, and that at least gives those considering tweaks to the eligibility of overseas-based players some insight into what needs to be written into the protocols moving forward.

Dave Rennie, for one, has already put his hand up in acknowledging the failings of the past few weeks.

"I guess when we first brought these boys back in when we were in Australia, my thought process was that they would be available for all [Regulation 9] Tests," he said Thursday. "We weren't sure about Japan, assumed they'd be available for these three, but probably what it highlights is that discussing that sort of stuff with the club early on would have been important."

The embarrassment must be shared across all parties.

Just how long that stain lingers unfortunately rests with those who played no part in it all - the 30-odd Wallabies players who did travel to the U.K.

Keep on winning and the episode will be quickly forgotten. But you can imagine what the first question will be should they suffer a third straight defeat by Scotland on Sunday week.