The underperforming Wallabies go up against Cardiff tomorrow morning and their tour doesn’t get any easier. Not only have the Wallabies never beaten Cardiff on tour (even the greats of 1984 had a hiccup against the boyos from the valleys), but they are up against a team which has an uncomfortable level of experience.
To add to the Wallaby woes, the Cardiff backs coach is Bill Millard, the former Australia Sevens and Melbourne Rebels coach in the ARC. With his Sevens background Millard has always been a fan of running rugby, but in Wales it appears he has taken his running game to the next level.
Paul Ackford, former England international and now rugby writer, recently said of Millard’s Cardiff team after they slammed Gloucester, “Most teams would have been happy enough just with the work of their forwards on Saturday. Not Cardiff. Their backs were almost as good. They were inventive, gutsy, pacey and threatened on almost each occasion they had the ball which was often.”
Speaking from Cardiff last night, Millard was not surprised that the Wallabies struggled against Scotland. “It’s no surprise to us here, because Glasgow and Edinburgh are two of the best teams in Europe. They’re getting better and better each year”.
The Wallabies chances against Cardiff?
“This will be pretty much a second string side for us, but there is still some good quality out there. We have Gareth Thomas who has played 100 Tests for Wales and 3 for the Lions, (former All Black) Xavier Rush who is the best ball carrier in Europe, and plenty of hard valley boys who have already made it clear that they want to prove themselves against a Test standard side”.
“If we get it right, particularly against some of the young players in the Wallaby lineup, they might get a bit of a shock early on. These guys are old school, aggressive players, and they know that if we stand back and watch the Wallabies play, they’ll put 50 points on us. So we just have to try to get up off the line and unsettle them. That’s all we can do. If we try to get cute with them and throw it around, they’ll beat us”.
The Cardiff preparation has perhaps left a little to be desired and the Welsh boys could be forgiven for being a little irritated with the Wallaby camp for impinging on their only decent break between now and next May.
“To be honest” says Millard “the boys didn’t know about this game until about 4 weeks ago. They’ve played 39 games straight, and this was our one chance to have a rest and now we’ve got to play this game in the middle of what was going to be a 14 day break. We’ve been training for 20 weeks. We play so much rugby over here – we’re playing Boxing Day, we’re playing New Years Day, there’s no chance for the players to have a rest.”
“So we’ll have a little Captains Run tomorrow and, as I’ve said, they’re mostly experienced guys, they don’t get too worked up. They individually get up for the game and away they go.”
It would be tempting to think that the loss to Scotland would have the Cardiff boys slavering over the chance to take on a Wallaby team who is obviously at a low ebb, but Millard says that’s not the case. “No, it’s not like that at all. They’re pretty respectful of the Wallabies. They rate them. As I’ve said before, Glasgow and Edinburgh are two of the best teams in Europe, so we know how you can get blindsided up in Scotland.”
“We’ve watched the Gloucester game because obviously that’s who we’re playing, rather than the Test lineup, you know, guys like Kurtley and so on.”
“Sam Norton-Knight who is playing with us now, he’s spoken a bit about Matt Toomua and a few of the guys he knows, but the Cardiff guys are generally pretty good blokes and they’ve got a lot of respect for the Wallabies. They’re looking forward to it and they know that regardless of whether the Wallabies won or lost against Scotland, the only way we can beat them is to get up off the line in defence and play a physical game”.
History must play a part for Cardiff, given that they are undefeated against the Wallabies on end-of-season tours. So has there been a bit of talk around the Cardiff camp about maintaining the unbeaten run? “Yeah a little bit” says Millard “but it was different days back then wasn’t it? You know, I was speaking to (former Wales and Lions star) Bob Norster about it when they were beaten in 1984 and all the Welsh superstars were playing for Cardiff.”
“If our 10 or 11 internationals were available to play for us it would be awesome. You know, like the real old school midweek games. We’d have guys like Gethyn Jenkins (Wales and Lions loosehead prop) who’s often spoken about as one of the best looseheads in the world, Martyn Williams (Wales vc and flanker) who’s just a freak, Tom Shanklin and Jamie Roberts who are the Wales and Lions centres and had such a great tour of South Africa, Tom James (Wales wing), Leigh Halfpenny (Wales wing). They’re probably the main ones.”
“That said, we’ve got enough to threaten the Wallabies without doubt. This outfit is a dogged team of defenders. Pretty simple and direct attack, hard at it, with a good level of experience. Guys like Xavier Rush – we talk about “tupping” as in hitups – well he’s the best tupper I’ve ever seen” Millard laughs.
“Just leads with his chest! There’s also Sam Norton-Knight, Ben Blair the former Canterbury and All Blacks fullback. Gareth Thomas who’s a Wales legend at 13. Paul Tito (former Hurricanes and All Blacks second rower) is coming back from injury so he’ll be off the bench. And some very good solid Welsh blokes who’ve been around a fair bit, so we’ll be right”.
On the home front, the announcement of the 5th Super side in Australia has meant that all the Australian coaches offshore have been put under the microscope for a role with the new boys down south. Is Millard keen to go back to Melbourne, given that he already did the job once during the ARC?
“Melbourne’s interesting, mate. There’s a lot of publicity about all the coaches they’re chasing and the players they want, and all the Aussies over here hear a lot about what is happening there. The thing about Melbourne is that it is a rare opportunity to create a culture from scratch. It’s not very often in sport you get to create a new culture.”
“During the ARC, Rod Macqueen and myself and the others involved, we said let’s only get people who want to come here, and it’s a no dickhead policy. And we weren’t the best team on paper, but it was a very powerful environment, with leaders like David Croft and workers like Shawn Mackay”.
“Now if you look around world rugby at the moment, Newport Gwent Dragons are doing very well at the moment, better than a lot of teams, but on paper they’ve got no-one of note really. But they’ve got that same culture, that same approach. There were a couple of teams in the NPC this year, that had no-one on paper, but did extremely well because they had the no dickhead policy and a really solid culture.”
“Now, I’d like to think that it’s worked once well in Melbourne, why don’t they just repeat it? Yes, you need some good talent, and you need to get a couple of rock stars to bring in the crowds, but make sure those rock stars are there for the right reasons. I think if they get a mismatch of talented guys who are there for the wrong reasons, they’re going to miss out on the magic that can happen when you have a strong culture and a group of guys who want to work for each other”.
Would Millard take the job if it came up?
“I’ve got a massive soft spot for Melbourne, but my coaching has developed enormously since I’ve been over here and Cardiff have been very good to me. We play so much rugby, and there are so many good players and coaches, it’s just a great environment to learn and develop”.
“I’d like to think I could do the job but it’s really matter for the people involved to talk to the coaches they think can do it, and I haven’t had any calls, so I haven’t really been thinking about it at all. We’ve got some big games coming up in the various leagues we’re involved with and I’ve got plenty to worry about there.”
“My immediate job is to work with the Cardiff coaching and playing staff and see if we can pull off an upset against the Wallabies tomorrow night. That’s what’s driving me right now”.