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By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia head to the Gold Coast with their confidence battered after another heavy defeat to the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship and with less than a week to fix a litany of problems before facing world champions South Africa.
While Sunday's 38-21 loss at Perth Stadium was a numeric improvement on the 57-22 hammering at Eden Park, scrumhalf Tate McDermott nailed it when he said the Wallabies were stuck in 'Groundhog Day', committing the same mistakes again and again.
Coach Dave Rennie had promised better in Perth after a "brutal" review and a three-week break to reboot the team.
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Instead, the Wallabies served up the same array of turnovers, intercept tries and poor decisions seen in the first two tests against the All Blacks.
Losing to the New Zealanders is one thing, but being outscored 5-0 by them in the 20 minutes following Jordie Barrett's red card was a bitter pill for most of the 52,000 fans that went to Perth Stadium with hope on a sunny day.
"Disappointed and I suppose frustrated would be another emotion," forwards coach Dan McKellar said on Monday of the mood in the Wallabies camp.
"We've had some really good periods in all three games but been our own worst enemy at times as well and the reality is we've gifted the All Blacks opportunity and points and you'll never beat them while you're doing that."
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Rennie said the Wallabies had put a heap of work into fixing their season-long breakdown woes but they were again smashed in the tackle area and let down line-breaking team mates by not running in support.
While inside centre Samu Kerevi and McDermott were industrious a number of players, including fullback Tom Banks and flyhalf Noah Lolesio, will be anxious about their positions.
Rennie has given both plenty of chances but their decision-making and skill execution let the All Blacks off the hook repeatedly when they were undermanned and vulnerable.
Selectors will hope flyhalf James O'Connor will be fit for Sunday's clash but utility back Reece Hodge, who ran off the bench in Perth, could wear the number 10 jersey at a pinch if not picked at fullback.
South Africa, flying high after beating Argentina twice and winning the British and Irish Lions series, are a different proposition to the All Blacks but no less of a challenge for a team low in confidence.
"I wouldn't say they're a tougher task," said McKellar.
"They're a very different side to New Zealand.
"We've got to be smart with the ball that they kick us and be really clear on our strategy and tactics."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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The new campaign is almost with us and there are several plot lines already unfoldingBut he did and now he appears ready to take a fresh guard for the new season.