In the four matches they’ve had so far this year, you can’t help but have one of the key Dingo Bingo words ringing in your ears: “Growth”. Arriving with about 2 weeks prep after winning the Super 14, AntipoDeans spent last year unearthing all the crappy habits and inadequacies left by 10 years of outdated coaching philosophies and neglect.
Some of the faults he found included:
- An inability to defend the breakdown (“I thought we could just hang out with the backs”)
- Absolutely zero tactical kicking ability (“fuck it, I’ll chuck up a bomb”)
- Limited counter-attack or support play (“GO LATHO!”)
- Few attacking options outside of monotonous phase play and the odd ex mungo (“fling it to Lote”)
(I’m counting the scrum as being already on the mend).
Over last year, and in the Super14 season since, big strides have been made in these areas.
We’ve seen the attack go deeper and create multiple options off a single play. There are signs of the back 3 gaining confidence in counter-attack notably through Lakky Turner and Ashley-Cooper, and support play has drastically improved. No longer are players trying to do it all themselves; they’re finding other players in better positions and have the handling skills to get the ball to them, unselfishly. Witness the try vs France in Sydney.
Breakdown security is definitely a work in progress, but we’re seeing some famous seagullers do more ruck clearing than ever before, and it’s been made obvious that this is a point of focus for the team.
Of all the improvements though, the key paradigm changer for the Wallabies is the arrival of an accurate tactical kicking game. When Dingo started last year, he was openly critical of the Wallabies’ ability in this area, and took the drastic step of actually practising it (shock, horror) and measuring the players competitively for distance and accuracy.
Through the Super14, we saw Australia’s key kicking protagonists – Giteau and Barnes – honing their skills, and in the first three games of this international season, their left/right combo mercilessly pinned the BaaBaas and Italy in their own halves. With the amount of counter-attack ball that both the All Blacks and Springboks live off, this development alone could swing a series win for the Wallabies.
In the ‘reasons for concern’ bin along with ruck security is busting the advantage line through the forwards. A good rush defence (of which the Boks are masters) that hems the Wallabies in close to the ruck could go a long way to blunting our wide attacking options and exposing low impact ball running forwards. The Wallabies were well beaten by the Italians in this area and relying on the return of the injured Palu and Elsom to fix all is risky.
Another nagging concern is the historically solid Wallaby defence. There was a try landslide against the Wallabies last year (I’m still in therapy for Joburg) and we gave the Italians one of the 4 tries they’ve scored all year. The shut out against France was more satisfying, but it this new defensive system that requires no specialist coach will be tested far more in the Tri-Nations.
In predicting this year’s result, I’ve got an unusual feeling. It goes beyond the usual optimism mixed with foreboding, and into a new sensation: expectation. Can we actually start to think of ourselves as at least equals in terms of expectations, if not a little more than that?
Just before you answer, a couple of other dimensions that might just spring a surprise for the Wallabies this year.
First – the scrum. Seriously. Our first choice front row has no-one to fear north or south, and Adam Freier had a glint in his eye when commenting on the height of the Boks scrum vs the Lions on Foxsports last week; keeping in mind that Benn Robinson could scrummage 10cms above the dirt. With the right referee, this could be an unaccustomed gamebreaker for the Wallabies.
Second – place kicking. How different it is when the scoreboard ticks over, even without a try in sight. No more free-kicks at the break downs and no Dan Carter for the ABs. Giteau had the best kicking percentage of all teams during the autumn tours last year and has been harvesting the points since. Dare I say it we even have backup kickers in Mortlock, Barnes and O’Connor.