Saturday, 17 September 2011

Irish Forwards Highlight Wallaby Selection Blunders

The Irish outplayed the Wallabies. They won at the breakdown, they destroyed the Wallaby scrum, they won the line-outs, and they were better defensively.

Irish defensive coach, ex-Australian rugby league international  Les Kiss, was prominent in the coaching box and post-match celebrations,  and clearly played an important role in the win.

Its impossible to see the Wallabies winning this tournament after that performance, and the game has shown up the Wallabies Tri-Nations win for what it really was: a trophy gifted to them by two opponents that weren’t on the job.

But the loss has also focused attention on the coaching ability  of Robbie Deans. When the Wallaby RWC team was chosen, eyebrows were raised. Why did Deans go into the tournament with no back-up number 7 to Pocock? 

Australia were totally dominated by the Irish at the breakdown and failed to win any turnover ball. The absence of Pocock was a major blow which could not be overcome because Deans chose to leave Beau Robinson and other specialist fetchers in Australia. Instead he chose a host of players capable of covering 6 & 8 (Elsom, Higginbotham, Palu, McCalman, and Samo).  

Surely the Wallabies could have done without one of these, making way for a back-up number 7? Indeed, Pocock’s replacement, McCalman, with no experience at number 7,  was not sighted during the game.

Furthermore, Deans’ failed to bring on potential game-breaking replacements such as Higginbotham until the 75th minute of the match, by which time the Wallabies had no chance of reigning in the deficit, indicating a paralysis in the coaching box.

Deans also chose a host of injured players in his squad (Mitchell, Barnes, Polota-Nau, Horne, Slipper and Palu) who are clearly still not fit to play at this level, leaving a dearth of able-bodied replacements that could be called on when he needed them. 

The coach decided to leave Matt Giteau at home and instead gave his position in the team to Pat McCabe, who has never played in the inside backs, has no ball playing skills, no side-step, no creativity, can't kick, and has failed to break the line in any of the games he has played in the position. 

Indeed, Deans has revealed that he is no master coach, with his selection decisions making the tag of ‘dunce’ more appropriate. The recent decision to re-appoint him for another two years was premature. He needs to move on after the RWC and allow  Ewan McKenzie, his obvious successor,  time to re-build the team.

The only positive to come out of a likely early Wallabies exit from the RWC  is that perhaps administrators will be forced to go back and take a good hard look at the player development process in Australia, which for far too long has relied on a player base that is just too small. 

Unless that is improved, it won't matter which coach they appoint.

Friday, 2 September 2011

The Team That Wanted It Most

In the Tri-Nations, the Springboks sent their B-team to the Antipodes. The All Blacks responded by sending their B-team to South Africa. These somewhat cynical ploys, which trivialised a great tournament, also decided its outcome.

Having not won any silverware for a decade, the Wallabies, by contrast, did not hesitate to  put their best side on the park in every game. After such a long drought, it was important for them to win something – anything

At Eden Park, the All Blacks blew the Wallabies off the park with a first half of total intensity and intimidation. The game was over by half time. In Brisbane, the Wallabies used the same tactic, from the kick-off throwing everything bar the kitchen sink at the ABs. Adam Ashley-Cooper stated afterwards that at half time of the Brisbane test,  he had never been as tired in all his life. No wonder that the opposing team in both games outscored the hosts in the 2nd half.

In the end the Tri-Nations was effectively decided by one man. With the Wallabies clearly spent, Will Genia yet again produced an inspirational run that led to the match-winning try. Genia reminds this blogger of George Gregan at his peak. Gregan had the ability to dictate a game and lift the side. But Genia may turn out to be even better than Gregan. As Farr-Jones predicted, he could be the best Australian half-back since Catchpole.

Speaking of comparisons with past greats, it was surprising to read comments in the press that James O’Connor may have trouble re-claiming his spot in the side. There is a touch of Campese about this boy, and the Wallabies cannot afford to leave him out. 

So to the World Cup. Can the Wallies win it? With excitement machines like O'Connor, Beale, and Quade Cooper, anything is possible. Sekope Kepu has been the front row find of the season, and with the return of James Slipper there is some hope that the team’s perpetual achilles heal-- the scrum – might hold its own.

Despite his age, Radike Samo is the best Wallabies number 8 since Totai Kefu. With Elsom, Higginbotham, and Pocock, Australia has an imposing set of loose forwards, while Horwill and Vickerman are a fine pair of locks.

But to win the WC, a team needs to have a reliable goal kicker; a nerveless character like Matt Burke, Elton Flatley, Jonny Wilkinson or Dan Carter.

The Wallabies don’t have such a player.

Despite the Tri-Nations result and their reputation for choking in previous World Cups, the All Blacks, with the home advantage,  should win it.