The game against Argentina was dire, and I really don’t want to dwell on it too much.
Barely anyone played well, and we were out on our feet by about the 30 minute mark. In the end we were lucky to be as close as we were, and congratulations to the Argies on their first win in the big dance. You could read a lot into that game (and say the Wallabies are falling apart) or nothing (and say we were just buggered after emptying the tank and then some last week). I probably fall more into the latter camp.
Frankly the negativity from some commenters is starting to get to me. We had one bad game, sure, and not a great series overall. But it seems a lot of people here take joy in sticking the boot into our players. I think some people need to step back and ask why they watch the Wallabies, why they watch rugby. If you can’t enjoy it and occasionally say something nice, then why are you doing it at all?
With the Championships over it’s now time to look back on what we have learnt. Starting with:
We are light on leadership
I think this is a big issue, and it rests with all 15 players. Michael Hooper isn’t a great captain. His management of his fellow players seems to be the problem- we kept giving away stupid, stupid penalties and heads needed to be kicked. But as the youngest player in the squad can you really blame him for not being captain hardarse??
Past Hooper there isn’t much in the leadership stakes. Stephen Moore and David Pocock are the two injured captains at the moment, but even then there isn’t a tonne of evidence that they have what it takes. It’s no coincidence that the blokes who have lifted the World Cup have been brilliant leaders- McCaw, Smit, Johnson, Eales, Pienaar, Farr-Jones and Kirk. We don’t have anyone close. The legacy of Ben Mowen is growing with every game. Guys like James Slipper, James Horwill, Scott Fardy and AAC should be the ones stepping up, but I really haven’t seen much to suggest they’d be any better than Hooper.
We didn’t get enough from our locks or inside backs
Looking forward to the RWC, there are still some big questions we need to answer in terms of our best XV. After the Rugby Championships I would argue we only have five players locked into their positions- Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Hooper, Tevita Kuridrani and Israel Folau. You would assume Wycliff Palu and Stephen Moore would play if fit, and AAC would slot in somewhere as well. But other than that it is all up in the air.
The big worries are our locks and our inside backs. Rob Simmons, Sam Carter and Horwill battled for impact through the whole series. Each had their moments, but when you look at the series in its entirety you’d suggest we were well behind what both the Springboks and the Kiwis had to offer. Skelton looked mid-year like he would be the answer, but he was given barely any game time to prove it.
Bernard Foley and Matt Toomua never really let the side down, but didn’t do enough for mine. I still wonder if Foley is really up to top level test footy. He can certainly play, but is he the 10 that will take us deep in the World Cup? I’m not sure. Quade Cooper will be our starting pivot sooner rather than later. And Toomua has struggled to find his mojo. His place is more secure than Foley’s, but we need him to provide more with ball in hand- I can’t remember a linebreak or try in this whole series.
Link’s tactical smarts have deserted him
When he used to coach the Queensland Reds, Ewen McKenzie was a tactical genius. He would play a noticeably different plan each week, exploiting the weaknesses of his opponent. Some weeks they would kick to the corners, others they would run the ball from everywhere. He was also dead on the money when selecting players to carry out this plan. And they won more often than not.
Where has this Ewen McKenzie gone? We seem to have no discernible game plan any more, or if we do it is hard to work out quite why we were employing it. Why did we kick it back down the throats of the Saffers last week? Why did we pick Kurtley Beale for the first two Bledisloes, only to stand him waaay behing the advantage line and shovel shit to his outside men? Why was Matt Hodgson dropped from the bench before a physical game against the Boks in Cape Town? Why did we decide tackling was optional in the second Bled?
It certainly isn’t all doom and gloom, but it frustrates me that we seem to have lost the tactical smarts that used to be the trademark of Australian rugby.
We have improved… but not much
I think if you look at the series as a whole we are probably in a better place than where we were at this point last year. In 2013 we were comprehensively outplayed in each game against both South Africa and New Zealand. This season we only had one shocker, and were right in the three other games. The loss to the Argies puts a bit of a dampener on things, but as I said above I’m not sure you can read too much into that result. Honestly, though, I think we all expected a bit more improvement considering our form on the EOYT and against France.
Slipper and Kepu are two world class props
The game in Mendoza was a small bump in the road, but this was the most successful Rugby Championship scrum effort that I can remember. We achieved scrum parity in almost every game, and certainly nullified it as an opposition weapon. Not only that, the form around the field of both Slipper and Kepu was outstanding, and both would be pushing selection in a combined tournament XV (Hooper and Kuridrani might also go close). As I said on the podcast last week I think they are our two most important players at the moment, as our depth in the prop department leaves a bit to be desired.
We can still win the World Cup…
… but only if somebody beats the All Blacks first. There is plenty of negativity around the Wallabies at the moment, but you know what? We can certainly still win it all next year. We have shown that we can beat the Boks, and we’ve got the wood on most (if not all) of the Northern Hemisphere nations. Beating New Zealand may be beyond us, but if someone else does it for us then I see no reason why we can’t be right in it until the end.
It is going to be a tough slog, especially with Wales and England in the pool matches. But if we can keep most of our guys fit then we can be good enough to go all the way.
What were your big lessons from the Rugby Championship?