Careful What You Wish For
Michael Cheika just might get a nights sleep this week after his Wallabies team stepped up to the plate with a far more committed display against the All Blacks in Wellington. You wouldn’t call it redemption but you’d say our team had a dig and that’s a start after last weekends disappointment. The television pictures suggested the Coach has had some restless nights this past week. You have to feel for the bloke…he’s so clearly hurting.
In sport and life you have to be careful what you wish for because there will always be ups and downs. Our Wallaby team right now are doing it tough. Having dreamed of playing for Australia and winning World Cups our team are living the hell that is being in the middle of a losing streak. It’s the pits, sickening and definitely not anything like what playing for the Wallabies is meant to be. But that’s life and it’s a lesson that will serve these players well beyond the rugby pitch. The only thing to do when you’re in the middle of a storm is to keep on going and that’s what Michaels Cheika’s team is doing.
The Wallabies Review Meeting
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Wallabies had a few beers together last night despite losing in Wellington. It’s been a very tough week mentally and the Coach might just encourage the boys to relax and let some steam off. Some time today I’m sure the team will have a review and the usual format for this will be to focus on 3 key areas to Keep Doing and 3 key things To Fix Up.
The Keep Doings
Keep playing at that level of intensity. We had forwards ploughing into rucks and giving as good as they got in the niggle. There were no backward steps and the line speed was much improved in defence. Naturally, when you get stuck in there will be a few penalties and we probably got penalised more than we deserve. Adam Coleman’s Yellow Card seemed a tad harsh and there were a few other tough calls but that’s life. The Kiwis are a physical team and they like to assert authority when they play. Like it or not you have to step up physically in Test Match rugby or you’ll get run over.
Keep finding ways of getting Izzy in the game. The high ball hoisted by Quade Cooper for Izzy in the first half reminded me of the 2003 World Cup Final cross kick from Steve Larkham for Lote Tiquiri. The more Izzy can be involved in the game the better. It’s a shame there are not more playable scrums at Test level because clean scrum ball is another way of ensuring Izzy gets the ball in space. In a wet night in Wellington he managed at least 3 line breaks so keep feeding him the ball and finding way to get him in space.
It might be appropriate for one of the support coaches to read the players this quote taken from a Teddy Roosevelt speech…
“it’s not the critic that counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who was actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spend himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while doing greatly, so that his face shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat”.
The team seems to be sticking together well and long may that continue. Everyone needs to be part of the solution right now.
The Fix Ups
Early on we struggled at the lineout on our throw. The Kiwis are excellent in the art of line out defence thanks to the combination of their 3 main jumpers – Kieran Read, Brodie Retalick and Sam Whitelock. These guys have great aerial ability and they’re a terrific combination. They all jump well and are excellent lifters…invariably it’s this “Super Pod” that does all the damage both on the Kiwis throw and in line out defence.
We can learn from the All Blacks in this area and I’m sure Mick Byrne is working on it. From a selection perspective it really helps if you can pick and stick with the same Locks and Jumping Back Rower. In many ways in the modern game the “Lineout is the Game”. It’s the primary source of structured possession and if you can dominate this area of the game you’re halfway home.
The New Zealand forwards made more than twice as many passes as the Aussie forwards. Most of them are tip ons and out the back passes but there are plenty of offloads too. The All Black pack seems to pride themselves on being terrific all-round players and they’re very effective at keeping the ball alive – we can do that too. Our attack shape is very similar to New Zealand’s structures, both teams want to play an expansive game. For our attack to unlock the defence more consistently we need our forwards to keep the ball alive as much as possible. It’s not difficult, the players have the skills…it’s just a reminder and an attitude thing.
If we can get more aerial pressure on the opposition lineout our overall defence will improve. It means they won’t be able to easily set up drives and narrow our defence line, creating opportunities out wide. The All Blacks scored twice from the same “Spread” play off the back of a line out drive. We had to defend the drive plus the snipes around the fringes from Aaron Smith and that narrowed our defensive line. They then ran a “Blocka” play that released Beauden Barrett and his back three team mates out wide. We failed to defend the play twice so we may need to improve our edge defence as well.
So that’s how I think the Team Review will go down. I hope for the Coach’s sake he gets some sleep this week. He’s a tough cookie but even tough guys need a bit of support every now and then. The Wallabies have a lot of work to do to catch up with New Zealand but it can be done. There was a time not that long ago (well maybe 15 years) when the Wallabies were the best in the world and the Kiwis had to catch up.