Welcome, cobbers all.
It’s my pleasure to bid each and every one of you well met to this, the 35th publication of The Chewsday Chew. So come, sit, read, think and comment away below, all with good health, the sun on your back and an open, honest heart.
In contemplating what to chat about today, I was momentarily committed to write a bit about good sportsmanship and bonhomie. I mean, we’ve seen some spectacular examples of just that in our own game in recent times. But perhaps no greater example have we seen of late than what we saw exhibited between the English Roses and the New Zealand Black Ferns over the weekend wherein a truly epic women’s Rugby World Cup Final ended with a 34-31 victory to the Kiwi hosts in front of a previously unimaginable sell-out crowd at Eden Park.
What we saw last Saturday night was special. Not only was it a cracker of a match, but also a live demonstration of the spirit of how a game – our game – is to be embodied. We saw from both sides a live example of how individuals are to behave in the trial and tribulation that surround such events. We saw it all in that display – the teamwork, the faith to hold your shape, the trust in your team mates, the discipline to ‘do my job’ and so put others where they can do theirs, and above all, the willingness to give give and give again to achieve the group goal. And then after the final whistle, we saw the sheer joy of the event, the selfies, the crowd interactions, the interviews, the singing, the gifting of kit and medals… just all the good stuff.
We also saw the heartaches at both the individual and team levels. After what can only be acknowledged as a phenomenal winning-streak build-up stretching for 30 matches, the Red Roses saw their monument to team first and hard work come crashing down in the very last movement of the game. But while the Roses hearts were clearly broken, their composure remained intact. History normally forgets those who lose. But I’ll remember the Red Roses for their composure in defeat.
Likewise we saw how both their squad and an individual player, England’s wing Lydia Thompson, pulled it together and held both shape and dignity as best they could when devastatingly shown a red card. With the Roses leading 14-0 at about the 18th minute mark, Thompson’s attempt to stop Portia Woodman with a ‘heads up’ cover tackle went 7 shades of wrong with a sickening head clash resulting, which left Scottish Referee Hollie Davidson with zero options under the existing protocols but to flash the vino and send the Roses down to 14 players for the remainder of the match. But again, did we see the player, the team or anyone associated with the Roses ‘lose it’? No, we did not.
Alas, we should also recognise and compare that high water mark to what else we see around the rugby world embodied in none other than the flag-bearer for South African rugby, Rassie Erasmus. Rassie, I know you won’t, but you should hang your head in abject shame and exit stage left ASAP. I’m conflicted here in that I don’t wish to give Rassie column inches of any sort. But his attacks on officialdom must be called out for what they are, for the damage they have done, are doing now and the damage he seems committed to visiting on our game before he’s done.
But then again, while we have Rassie the Rascal, we could have Max Verstappen in our game as well I guess. Wow, just wow.
But no. Today I feel compelled to talk about humiliation. For I feel humiliated. I’m not angry. I’m not raging. I’m not indignant, nor vexated nor even exasperated. I was all those things in the two days or so since Sunday morning (Sydney time). But I’m not now. No, now I am simply, quietly but undeniably humiliated. I am humiliated by this aimless, clueless garbage our own Wobblies are rolling out week after week.
I’m not humiliated because we lost to Italy by 1pt. I’m not denigrating the Italians. The Italians were brave, cunning, committed and took their chances. Congratulazioni Italia. This isn’t about being bested by the Italians. What this is about is the manner of our defeat: our aimless approach, our brainless execution and our utter apparent bewilderment afterwards. This is about us and our continual, systemic, obvious failings.
The Wobblies approached the northern tour in hardly good shape at all, let alone in the state expected for a tour on the cusp of a World Cup year. With a deplorable and worsening win/loss record and more injured players than fit ones, we didn’t get on the plane to head north with a squad chock of fit and healthy champions. We were most definitely not full of confidence and champing at the bit; rather we clambered aboard with the unfit, the out-of-form, the called back from expected lay-offs, the lacking in confidence and, armed with a questionable defensive system and an overly ambitious and robotic attacking programme, we waved them off entrusted to what increasingly looks like a coaching unit unsure of themselves.
In such a maelstrom of discontent and unease, surely the Italian game was red circled, underlined and yellow highlighted from the outset as the one unforgivingly obvious fixture that simply must be won at any and all cost. Surely it was the conspicuous bare minimum match to bank, so as to have something to hang a hat on, to build some confidence from, some cohesion, something in which to found some semblance of a baseline for the emergency gap analysis that must follow this annus horribilis and lead into the next ‘Year of the Bill’.
And we started the tour OK, we snagged the Scottish game by a point. But surely Scotland, unpredictable, mercurial and comfortably well above us on the world rankings at the time, was identified as a ‘nice to get’ compared to the much lower-ranked Italians who, we must recall, were the subject of a well-voiced public argument earlier in the year to be traded out of the 6 Nations and replaced by Georgia!
As such, surely against Italy was the time to run as close to a First XV as we could manage? Apparently not. Let’s make a dozen changes to the side. That will guarantee victory in a must-win match.
Certainly Italy was the time to get the 1%ers right and off to a cracking, confident start? Obviously not. Let’s start by having a primary catcher drop a kickoff and then have his safety net (a guy specifically placed exactly where he was for the express reason of catching a wayward ball) fail in his task as well.
Critically Italy was when we’d make smart, timely, tactically astute substitutions to a reasonably well-set and preordained timetable? Nah, instead we will yank an under-performing playmaker with only 5min to go and expect a cold replacement to stitch a game up with scarcely enough field time to dirty his knees. FOR THE SECOND WEEK IN A ROW.
Do I need to go on? Are you catching my drift? I’m humiliated because we are clueless.
We do not lack bravery. We do not lack heart. Nor do we lack condition or athleticism.
What we lack is a deadset clue.
And to define that down a little further;
- Our basic individual skills are unrefined and unreliable. I can’t trust a 15 to catch a bomb any more than a 2 to throw lineouts or a 9 to clear accurately. I can’t trust my team mate to execute.
- Our attack is frigid, obvious and bombastic. Thus we are disjointed and easily disrupted.
- Our defence lacks connection and confidence, and so invites early- and over-committing.
- Our selections are nonsensical and without design or development. So no one has role clarity.
- Our discipline – more than just penalties but our connection with our tasks – is non existent.
- But most of all, we are bereft of rugby nous. Be it by consequence of development, or consequence of tactics, when we are presented with something off plan we have no clue how to respond.
And so I’m humiliated because this is not the Australian rugby I know. This is not the rugby of the intelligentsia. This is not the confident rugby of the cheekily brave. This is not the adaptive, responsive, “I’ll take what you’ve got and go one better” rugby I understand.
No, this is the rugby of the clueless. This is the directionless, dumbed-down, paint-by-numbers, athletes-over-footballers, follow-the-formula, “But gee we trained well” crass rugby of the comfortably commodified. And that embarrasses me. So today I am reflecting on other humiliating losses our nation has endured to see what did we learn from those?.
June 1973 saw the Wobblies lose 16-11 to Tonga at Ballymore. Not much can be found regarding match reports, etc., other than a few indirect acknowledgements here and there that the loss represented the absolute lowest ebb of Australian rugby as a whole, to date (this tour isn’t over yet).
Another clanger was 12 November 2005 when England beat Australia 26-16 in the Cook Cup test at Twickenham. The match is remembered as not only did the English simply thoroughly outplay the Eddie Jones era Australians across the park, but, in particular, the Australian neglect of set piece fundamentals saw the Wobbly pack smashed from one end of the field to the other and eventually saw Australia finish the match fit for only uncontested scrums after Al Baxter was eviscerated by the novice Andrew Sheridan and Matt Dunning was also stretchered off. For what it’s worth, and because I could find no decent clip of the 2005 game, Sheridan and Co did it all again with a rinse & repeat scrum-obliteration performance in the quarter final of the 2007 Bill.
And lastly for today, perhaps the darkest day of all was on 17 July 2011 when Samoa (at $13.50 outsiders at the TAB) beat the Wobblies 32-23 in scenes disconcertingly similar to current circumstances wherein (paraphrasing the words of Wayne Smith of the SMH) the ‘liberties’ taken in selections, tactics and general approach in a match crucial to the build-up to the 2011 World Cup left the Australians ‘no safety net, no settling influence anywhere and with every pressure point left vulnerable and exposed.’ Sounds familiar?
And to be clear, in none of those examples do I ‘point the bone’ at the opponent. Well maybe I do at the English. But my dismay in those performances and the surrounding circumstances is reserved strictly for the Wobblies.
Look, at the end of the day, it’s a game. Life goes on. We will get over it. And to be fair, two measly points in two measly games and we would be 3 from 3 on this tour and so be singing Dave Rennie’s and the Wobblies praises from the top of Uluru.
But we’re not there. We are a long way from there. And we haven’t been so worthy in a long time. I’m just well sick of the excuses, the bland interviews, the friendly musings and the continual self-effacing ‘Yeh, we should do better’ bovinial excrementus. So as harsh as it may seem, it’s time for some truth I reckon. And the obvious truth must be pointed out to Rugby Australia for what it is: the Wallabies are embarrassing us. Fix it.