South Africa's Victor Matfield, right, tackles Australia Will Genia, center, during their Tri Nations rugby match in Cape Town, South Africa, Saturday, Aug. 8, 2009. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

South Africa's Victor Matfield, right, tackles Australia Will Genia, center, during their Tri Nations rugby match in Cape Town, South Africa, Saturday, Aug. 8, 2009. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

The Wallabies had two enemies on the field – themselves and the referee. The actual opposition, the Springboks, came in a distant third.

As one of my co-viewers mentioned at the time, it is a blight on the game that the Springboks can be described as the best team in the world when they don’t actually play any rugby.

While the Wallabies once again crumbled under the pressure of their lack of self belief, the referee, the crowd, the occasion and the history, the Boks simply sat back, kicked the ball in the air, waited for mistakes and kicked the points.

A telling moment was the 78th minute close up shot of centre Jacques Fourie, because it was at that point where one realised that he had been on the field for the whole game, but not once had been sighted with that ball in hand.

Against any other team, the early exit of Stirling Mortlock would have had alarm bells ringing, but against the Boks, it meant nothing, because their centres were never going to take the Wallabies on.

Morne Steyn, Francois Steyn and Ruan Pienaar, simply kicked, kicked and kicked again. And you can’t blame them. The IRB have encouraged this style of rugby through their incessant tampering with the laws, and they are now reaping the horrible harvest.

Test rugby has regressed to a kickfest – a contest of which team has the best kicker – and a complete guessing game about how the referee might decide to interpret the various infringements. If this is rugby’s showpiece, then we are in dire straits.

In terms of playing attractive rugby, the Boks were dreadful, and so were the Wallabies. In terms of playing percentage rugby likely to win them matches and eventually the Tri-Nations, the Boks were excellent, and the Wallabies were, again, dreadful.

Sadly for the Wallaby tight five, they have worked hard to get to a point where their scrum is a dominant weapon, only to find that their backs are prepared to squander the ball that they have worked so hard to win.

Matt Giteau must be removed from five-eighth sooner rather than later. He has long been touted as the equal of Dan Carter in the world flyhalf ranks, but tonight this was proven to be a sham.

Luke Burgess didn’t help with his scatterbrained passing and some of Giteau’s poor composure must be put down to his halfback creating massive doubt in his mind as to where the ball would arrive, or if indeed it would arrive at all.

Berrick Barnes on the other hand, stepped up to the plate while Giteau was serving his ten in the bin, and kicked with aplomb. With quick ball delivered by Genia after Burgess had been hooked, Barnes settled the Australians to the point where they looked like they might pull it off, but then Giteau rejoined the fray and spoiled it all.

Coach Deans’ first order of business should be to swap these two, to utilize Barnes’ composure and accurate kicking game, and to free Giteau up to take on the line and loop in support of his outside backs.

Ultimately though, it will mean little if the Wallabies aren’t prepared to take on their opposition and seize some chances to attack.

The Wallabies took a step back in time to the old days where they were so locked into a game plan, that they couldn’t get out of it, even when the occasion demanded. So much so, that we saw Drew Mitchell, with 6 minutes to go, and a 10 point margin, kicking the ball back to the Boks from the brokenest of broken play. The idea of running it back supported by Turner, O’Connor et al didn’t appear to have occurred to him.

I haven’t yet mentioned the referee.

Mr Rolland was horrendous and the only redeeming feature was that the Wallabies were bad enough to lose it on their own, so there is no need to blame him.

He penalized the Wallabies in their first scrum for a crooked feed, only to let both sides continue to feed like that for the rest of the match.

He penalized both sides for killing the ball while they were hard on attack. He missed several forward passes, and penalized some that weren’t.

His ruck interpretation was inexplicable and he also allowed himself to be bullied by John Smit. You can’t blame Smit by the way – any good captain should try it on, and it’s the ref’s fault if he succeeds, but it was rubbish of the first degree from Rolland, and any momentum that either side may have developed was completely destroyed by his histrionics.

While all this was going on, the Boks did what they do best and piled up points. They didn’t play rugby, but they didn’t need to.

They played the game plan which basically removes the chance of them making errors and gives them every chance to accumulate points. In the Test arena, you have to admire the application of a team who can be so single minded about their approach, even if you don’t actually enjoy it.

Where to from here for the Wallabies?

It has to be results. There can be no more talk of “development”, of “learning”, of “going in the right direction”. They have now lost to an All Blacks side which is one of the worst since Taine Randell’s All Blacks, and then to a Springbok side which is simply a one-trick pony, albeit a thoroughbred.

That said, both of these teams have something the Wallabies don’t, and that is steadfastness and application. The ability to hang around, remaining there or thereabouts on the scoreboard, and give themselves a chance to win at the death.

With Berrick Barnes’ field goal, it seemed early that the Wallabies may have heeded this lesson. But it wasn’t to be. The Tri-Nations is won and lost on the road. The Wallabies have squandered their chances thus far, and now instead of having a chance to win, will be fighting simply to remain in the contest.

It would be nice to be optimistic, but there’s little reason for optimism. So Wallabies supporters – brace yourselves. This Tri-Nations could actually get worse.

Andrew Logan
Andrew Logan

Andrew Logan has played rugby for over 25 years. A contributor to The Roar since its inception, he also writes for Inside Rugby magazine, and Super Rugby and international match day programs. A regular panellist on ABC Grandstand discussing rugby and other sports, Andrew has appeared on ABC's The Drum and also Sky Sportsline. He has convened and managed several touring sides including the Australian Rugby Sevens team on the IRB circuit, and the Australian Barbarians XV.

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The Crowd Says (217)

  • August 9th 2009 @ 10:20am
    Shahsan said | August 9th 2009 @ 10:20am | ! Report

    I wish people would stop it with the complaints about “bad refereeing” and “limited game plan” and “state of rugby today”. The reason the Boks are dominant is that they have worked out a game plan and execute it to perfection: strong pack that wins more than its share of lineout ball, a very strong back row, a competent frontrow, good defence all-around, and 2-3 terrific kickers.
    And they do have brilliant strike runners too if they ever had to revert to plan B, except they haven’t had to in the Tri Nations (they had to against the Lions in the second test and scored some good tries).
    And the way South Africa plays has been ever thus: when they had Naas Botha they played a similar way, even though they had brilliant backs such as Gerber, Du Plessis and co in their ranks.
    The truth is that their opposition now are just not playing better than them, simple as that.
    If the ABs and the Wallabies can improve their forwards and win more than their share of possession, if the backs can exceute basic moves without dropping passes or misdirecting them, then the limitations of the Springboks would be exposed for all to see.
    The Lions came close, and had they had a better and slightly longer buildup, i belive they would have won that series instead of narrowly losing it.
    It’s up to the ABs and Australia to do the same.

    • August 9th 2009 @ 2:16pm
      sheek said | August 9th 2009 @ 2:16pm | ! Report

      The trouble is Shahsan,

      If the Boks & other teams aren’t going to get away from Plan A, then the game IS in trouble. I’m presuming you’re a South Africa, & a rugby union zealot.

      Over here in Australia there are millions of heathens who, when dished up this rubbish, will boo it off the park. I hope that happens. I hope Aussie fans give this form of rugby the thumbs down, sneer & jeer, & walk out.

      Then maybe the IRB will realise they have a PR disaster on their hands with the current laws.

      • August 9th 2009 @ 3:43pm
        Even looser said | August 9th 2009 @ 3:43pm | ! Report

        Sorry Sheek but I don’t believe for one moment that the IRB give a toss about what Australian fans want.

        I’ve written elsewhere that I’m amazed that Sth African fans get so excited about the way the Springboks play. Yes there are times when a penalty kick is the right thing to do. But last night the game was all over red rover when George Smith gave away a penalty not far from the Wallaby line. Wouldn’t Boks fans have enjoyed the Skipper turning down 3 easy points for a scrum and then a try? Surely even Bok fans would like to have seen that? No?

        But ah ah….let’s take the 3 points. Sterile stuff!

        • August 10th 2009 @ 9:59am
          Rusty said | August 10th 2009 @ 9:59am | ! Report

          On the contrary – I think in the back of Smits mind was the Tri nations as a whole. In which case the thought would be to deny the Wallabies any chance of getting a bonus point. In light of the campaign the correct strategic move

      • August 9th 2009 @ 6:26pm
        Shahsan said | August 9th 2009 @ 6:26pm | ! Report

        Yes, I’m a rugby union fan. Always have been and always will be. No time for the other abominations.
        And I’m far from a South African fan. In fact, there is no team i despise more. And I would love to see them get smashed. But no one is playing well enough to do it.
        But someone will. The cycle always turns. Deans might get it right, and the new boys might come good and then show up the South Africans as the one-trick ponies they are. But until then I am in admiration of the skills they are executing. And the match was quite thrilling, if you know your rugby.
        I think rugby fans should just get used to the fact that the best team, aesthetically speaking, are unlikely to win the World Cup anymore. Just look at soccer/football, the self-styled “beautiful game”. The last truly beautiful side to win the World Cup was Brazil 39 years ago. Every world cup since then has been won by the most pragmatic team. Same thing in rugby. Since the game turned pro, the most efficient and expedient team has won every time.
        And their fans will not complain.

      • August 9th 2009 @ 6:52pm
        JustinB said | August 9th 2009 @ 6:52pm | ! Report

        Sheek, the game is in trouble only in Australia, nowhere else. And frankly the IRB probably doesn’t give a s**t about the game in Australia, and why should they? Rugby union doesn’t revolve around Australia surprisingly enough.
        Australia is in fairly unique position of having two other strong contact ball sports which compete with union – league and AFL. If the fans in Australia find AFL or league more exciting, who, outside of Australia, cares?

        Union is still thriving in the northern hemisphere, SA and New Zealand, despite your apparent boredom with the game.

        • August 9th 2009 @ 8:34pm
          sheek said | August 9th 2009 @ 8:34pm | ! Report

          Well,

          Irrespective of how the game might be going in Australia, if you guys can honestly say you’re over the moon with the type of rugby that’s been dished up so far in 3N, then you are easily pleased.

          And if playing conservative rugby is the only way to play winning rugby, then the game has a fundamental problem.

          Re football, sure Brazil 1970 is the standard. However, I thought Italy in 1982, Argentina in 1986, France in 1998 & Brazil in 2002, all played attractive football on the way to winning their world cups. And perhaps you could also include Argentina 1978.

          • August 9th 2009 @ 10:20pm
            Shahsan said | August 9th 2009 @ 10:20pm | ! Report

            Sheek, Italy in 1982 were spoilers and chancers, just as they were in 2006. Brazil and France were the two best teams in that World Cup, followed by Boniek’s Poland. 1986’s best teams were Brazil, Belgium, Denmark and France. 1990 was probably Cameroon and even England, etc, etc etc, ect.The point is you don’t win points for style. You have to play to your strengths to win.
            Which is exactly what South Africa is doing right now. It’s not aesthetically pleasing rugby but rugby can be played in a myriad ways and they’ve chosen one they know they have the personnel for.
            I am not easily pleased. I love the way Fiji, Samoa and Japan play rugby but they are never going to win the World Cup. None of teh big guns have ever played with their kind of flair. But they know how to win.
            Now it’s up to Australia and New Zealand to play well to beat the Boks. At the moment, both are playing poorly (or not well enough).
            The general tone on this site seems to be that losers whinge (and whinge and whinge and whinge) when they lose but then suddenly all is well when they win.
            That is not how I know rugby people to be.

        • August 9th 2009 @ 8:45pm
          Armchair-critic said | August 9th 2009 @ 8:45pm | ! Report

          A recent study in NZ apparently showed rugby was at its least popular since surveying began in the early 90s. Given that rugby is undoubted NZ’s national game, this is a telling and worrying statistic

          • August 9th 2009 @ 9:06pm
            Fuzz said | August 9th 2009 @ 9:06pm | ! Report

            I think it just shows that kiwis are now diversifying in sporting interests. Soccer is taking a strong foothold and league is certainly on the up.
            However there has been some very good crowds at ANZC matches so far this year. I guess you could put it down to the added interest of four teams getting the chop come end of the year. Plus Armchair you forgot to mention that the study was taken after the June tests and before the victory over the Wallabies and before the ANZC started. I could only assume what the survey would have said after the last two games against the Boks.

            I don’t think the survey has really told us anything we didn’t know already, New Zealanders have been rugby’d out for a long time it’s common knowledge.

        • August 10th 2009 @ 11:39am
          Gary said | August 10th 2009 @ 11:39am | ! Report

          The game is only in trouble in NSW and Queesland, not Austrlaia as a whole. Elsewhere, particualrly in WA, it is thriving.

        • August 10th 2009 @ 1:34pm
          rugbyfan said | August 10th 2009 @ 1:34pm | ! Report

          hardly…south africa couldn’t sell out british lions, new zealand can’t get a sell out crowd for it’s test matches, these statistics may actually indicate that the problem is not just australia.

          • August 10th 2009 @ 2:02pm
            countryboy said | August 10th 2009 @ 2:02pm | ! Report

            sheer BS rugbyfan, the Lions series didn’t sell out because the tickets were the local equivalent of $300 each, plus South Africa had just held the Soccer Confederations Cup and the cricket IPL.

            And the inability to sell-out a test in NZ is probably more a reflection of the average Kiwi’s disappointment with the current team than an issue with the rules and the type of game on offer.

            Anyway, if crowds are smaller, it’s because there is TOO MUCH RUGBY, not the type of rugby.

          • August 11th 2009 @ 6:28pm
            Ben J said | August 11th 2009 @ 6:28pm | ! Report

            Not that it matters that much but Newlands was soldout for Saturdays game.

      • August 11th 2009 @ 6:20pm
        matt0931 said | August 11th 2009 @ 6:20pm | ! Report

        Guys you can’t take anything away from SA, they play the rules perfectly and the game plan they have built suits their players skills to a tee. They have the best pack in rugby and they know how to use it, their line out is incredilbe and their play at the breakdown is what other teams dream about.

        In the last world cup there were three teams, SA, ENG and ARG using the high ball technique and more teams are likely going to start to employ this tactic, in fact the Wallabies put up a few last weekend and I only hope as more teams jump on the sky rocket bandwagon the IRB will see some light and change the rules for the better.

  • August 9th 2009 @ 10:29am
    JK said | August 9th 2009 @ 10:29am | ! Report

    I know this is going to sound like sour grapes, BUT….. I agree with many of your points, the ref interpretations and sometimes awareness of what was actually going on was dumbfounding. I am struggling to continue to follow rugby at the moment. That game was a sham, not just from a wallabies fan point, I was watching with people new to the game and found it extremely hard to defend the game as a great spectacle and an exciting form of entertainment. Even non footy followers were asking ” so you don’t need to score tries to win?” and ” it’s just AFL with the offside line” (meaning kicking goals to win)

    When a refereee can be so easily influenced by a player, how is anyone suppose to know what’s going on or what to do, are they supposed to ask John Smit for instructions?

    In the end though no excuses Wallabies were poor for most of it, so once they fell apart, and the ref can’t really win the game for himself, it left the Boks standing and thus victory was thiers.

    Ahhh maybe it is sour grapes!

    • August 9th 2009 @ 12:50pm
      Even looser said | August 9th 2009 @ 12:50pm | ! Report

      JK – The AFL comment along with comparison to Soccer was in fact made by my Missus, who I just could not manage to get to sit & watch the game. She wanted nothing to do with it. So to me that says much about ‘the product’.

      Well played by the Boks. It’s not the type of game that I want to follow for much longer but Boks did what they needed to do to come away with a win. Just how so many Sth African fans get excited about that Rugby exhibition has me dumb founded. Is it a case of the King with no clothes?

      • August 10th 2009 @ 10:06am
        Rusty said | August 10th 2009 @ 10:06am | ! Report

        As a Saffa fan. Sure it isnt the flashy of wins but for a traditional Boks grind em to dust, pressure play it was worth waiting till 1am to watch. Hell, 3 weeks of play and 3 wins over the other top 3 nations. I will take that any day

      • August 11th 2009 @ 6:31pm
        Ben J said | August 11th 2009 @ 6:31pm | ! Report

        Even looser

        The Wallabies committed cynical fouls amongst their 19 penalties, 3 yellow cards and conceded 9 lineouts. That is an indication of the pressure they were under. To blame the Boks’s backline play or lack thereof is only masking the defficiencies in the Wallabies gameplan.

  • Roar Guru

    August 9th 2009 @ 10:33am
    Poth Ale said | August 9th 2009 @ 10:33am | ! Report

    Blaming the ref?

    Give us a break.

    It’s regressed to a kickfest? But the Wallabies didn’t play the game.

    It’s all the fault of the IRB and the ELVs. Except the Wallabies squandered chances galore.

    The Boks kicked the ball up in the air – except when they put it behind the Wallaby backline, who allowed the fleet-footed Victor-Matfield to pick up the ball and score.

    There’s no need to blame the ref because the Wallabies were awful, but let me write three paragraphs about how bad he was anyway.

    His ruck interpretation was ‘inexplicable’ except for the fact that he clearly indicated that players – from both sides were diving in off their feet – and Wallabies continued to infringe.

    Wallabies got pinged for holding onto the ball in the tackle – because they were.

    Ref was bullied by John Smit. Or was it that Mortlock and then Smith wasn’t up to the job?

    Histrionics by the ref? The difference between the first half and second half in terms of infringements was marked. The Wallabies learned not to infringe – as much.

    If three of your players decide to commit professional fouls – there’s not a lot a ref can do except card them.

    The only place the Wallabies should be looking – is at themselves.

    • Roar Guru

      August 9th 2009 @ 9:29pm
      LeftArmSpinner said | August 9th 2009 @ 9:29pm | ! Report

      pot, no one is blaming the ref.

      • Roar Guru

        August 9th 2009 @ 9:31pm
        Poth Ale said | August 9th 2009 @ 9:31pm | ! Report

        Oh good. That’s all right then, LAS. For a minute there, I thought they were.

      • August 10th 2009 @ 10:08am
        Rusty said | August 10th 2009 @ 10:08am | ! Report

        I thought that was one of the main points of the post ..”The Wallabies had two enemies on the field – themselves and the referee. The actual opposition, the Springboks, came in a distant third”

  • August 9th 2009 @ 10:35am
    Andrew Logan said | August 9th 2009 @ 10:35am | ! Report

    Shahsan…..respectfully, I direct your attention to the following lines from the above article:

    “In the Test arena, you have to admire the application of a team who can be so single minded about their approach, even if you don’t actually enjoy it.”

    “Mr Rolland was horrendous and the only redeeming feature was that the Wallabies were bad enough to lose it on their own, so there is no need to blame him.”

    “Morne Steyn, Francois Steyn and Ruan Pienaar, simply kicked, kicked and kicked again. And you can’t blame them.”

    “In terms of playing percentage rugby likely to win them matches and eventually the Tri-Nations, the Boks were excellent, and the Wallabies were, again, dreadful.”

    • August 9th 2009 @ 12:02pm
      Colin N said | August 9th 2009 @ 12:02pm | ! Report

      “The Wallabies had two enemies on the field – themselves and the referee”

      “He penalized the Wallabies in their first scrum for a crooked feed, only to let both sides continue to feed like that for the rest of the match.”

      “He penalized both sides for killing the ball while they were hard on attack. He missed several forward passes, and penalized some that weren’t.”

      “His ruck interpretation was inexplicable and he also allowed himself to be bullied by John Smit.”

      So youu are blaming the ref then.

    • August 11th 2009 @ 6:35pm
      Ben J said | August 11th 2009 @ 6:35pm | ! Report

      Andrew

      I have rarely seen a Wallaby team concede so many penalties and yellow cards in a single game. In my memory the Boks were the ones that offended more at the ruck and scrumtime. What has changed that a NH referee in all 3 tests decided that the Boks are the most disciplined when their history is against them?

  • August 9th 2009 @ 10:36am
    Andrew Logan said | August 9th 2009 @ 10:36am | ! Report

    Pothale…..see above.

    • Roar Guru

      August 9th 2009 @ 11:26am
      Poth Ale said | August 9th 2009 @ 11:26am | ! Report

      Andrew – see above.

      If you’re not going to blame the ref, then don’t. You’re either blaming him by calling his decision-making and rulings into question or you aren’t blaming him, full stop. This is a version of having your cake and eating it.

      You claim it was a kickfest. Is that because Australia squandered their chances of playing it in hand? Or because Australia are now the same as Springboks?

      Your article has a number of contradictory assertions that I find confusing.

      You state that: Test rugby has regressed to a kickfest – a contest of which team has the best kicker – and a complete guessing game about how the referee might decide to interpret the various infringements. If this is rugby’s showpiece, then we are in dire straits.”

      Except that you seem to be saying that Australia were trying to play a running game but failed to do so.

      The same happened with All Blacks in the last match.

      I didn’t see a kickfest in the Aus v NZ match nor did I see it happen in the Lions Test matches.

      Or much of the 6 Nations either.

      • August 9th 2009 @ 11:27pm
        Ben C said | August 9th 2009 @ 11:27pm | ! Report

        Without trying to put words in Andrew’s mouth, you can blame the referee for the spectacle without blaming him for the result.

        Frankly I agree some of the strange forward pass calls were questionable, but the biggest problem for Australia was that we went missing entirely at the breakdown. Again. I don’t really disagree with Rolland’s decisions in this area as a whole as the Boks had the ascendancy and the Wallabies didn’t match up. The forward pass decisions were of little or no moment. Lack of commitment at the breakdown, not Rolland, causes Australia to leak possession, hand points to the Boks and give away any momentum. That and two ridiculous decisions by Giteau and Brown within minutes of each other.

        Well done the Boks. Robbie needs to have a long hard look at this team and think again about several positions, particularly the backrow.

  • August 9th 2009 @ 11:00am
    CraigB said | August 9th 2009 @ 11:00am | ! Report

    If that was rugby you can keep it! If that was the best team in the worlds idea of rugby you can keep it! Don’t get me wrong the boks had dome great rugby moments. There line out and rucking was exceptional. However is this is now the style you need to win games then I am just not interested. Just bomb it up and hope the vageries of the referee go your way. Sorry that’s not the game I fell in love with. That’s not the game I want to watch nor the game I would want to play.

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