What the Wallabies win really means
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On Saturday night I was at a family dinner, of all places, confidently predicting an All Blacks triumph against the Wallabies in Hong Kong. “The Wallabies haven’t demonstrated that they can close out a tight match yet,” I recall saying.
“And I don’t think they’re capable of coming back from a deficit to beat the All Blacks; the ABs defence is just too damned solid,” I continued.
Channel Seven had kindly moved the match off 7Two and 7 Mate in Melbourne, screening it at 1.30am, so I was forced to excuse myself from the table every four minutes to check live scoring.
When the All Blacks got out to 24 points, I walked back to the table full of confidence that we’d see an 11th straight victory and the Wallabies would be in yet another world of pain.
Returning to the feed three minutes from time, I was astounded, and as I watched, James O’Connor pulled his iPod earbuds out, channeled Justin Bieber, and won the game for the Wallabies.
Stunned? I was gobsmacked. Nearly everything I’ve been spouting on The Roar for the past three weeks was incorrect. The Wallabies *can* close out a game. They *do* back themselves. They *can* penetrate. They *are* building. They *still* have the ability to wait until the death knell, then sneak in a dirty little final try to steal the game.
Uh-oh, when’s the World Cup? Couldn’t we have played it at the end of the Tri-Nations this year?
With the cold light of a monsoonal Melbourne Sunday, I’ve had the opportunity to review the match and the replay, and the wider impact of this Wallabies win. And here is my top 10 list of outputs/inferences from the win.
1. The Wallabies have passed daylight on the IRB rankings.
This win means a lot in terms of split on IRB ranking points – Wallabies are still second, but only just! The margin between the two teams was slashed (by my calculations) from ~ 9 points to ~5.4 points.
2. Both sides take deep breath – it’s not that big a deal outside of Australia and New Zealand.
And it’s not.
There’s been such a lead up to this match that we forget there are other teams to play on each of the tours. England are in for a beating, because nothing arcs up an All Blacks team like a narrow loss.
The Wallabies also need to settle for the tour ahead; it didn’t end in Hong Kong.
3. Normal Bledisloe coverage to resume.
Despite loving watching the All Blacks win, there’s little satisfaction in a whitewash. We’re in for some cracking, ‘everything’s riding on this one penalty’ final matches in upcoming Bledisloes. I welcome this high pressure, high temperature environment, as it makes hardened performers of all involved.
4. Depth is a real problem for both sides.
With Carter or McCaw missing from the line-up, the All Blacks are down about five men and ten points. But the same can be said for Cooper and Bam Bam – these two players missing from the Wallabies would have an equivalent effect.
Weepu’s absence from scrumhalf was noted (thanks Alby) but there’s no-one approaching Genia in ability, either.
5. The torch is about to pass… from McCaw to Bam Bam.
There, I said it.
I hope it doesn’t pass before the RWC, but about three weeks afterwards. I can’t see McCaw with any more tricks left to give, and he’s slowing down. His heart, courage, and intensity are absolutely magnificent.
But Bam Bam seems to get better with every match, and what he delivers even at this age is approaching dominance.
Richie McCaw is still in my mind the best captain in the world and one of the players to ever grace the game of rugby; but he’s up against a Zimbabwean with one hell of a brain, brawn, and the evil little book of tricks that can only be gleaned from the dark arts of forwards play between the Tri Nations teams.
6. It was ‘the win Robbie Deans had to have.’
Baby steps, but steps in the right direction – he’s managed to instil the ever-necessary confidence into the players, and they appear to be able to back themselves out of a tight spot, something sorely missing three months ago.
His doctor will be pleased; Dean’s blood pressure would have returned almost to pre-2010 levels by now.
7. It was ‘the loss the All Blacks had to have.’
In some ways, a loss like this acts a short-circuit for any unintentional build-up of expectation. It’s certainly a wake up call for the fans – myself included – who realise that 2011 is not a sure thing, and may help to adjust public expectations (although not likely).
Graham Henry will be irritated, but not despondent about the loss.
I actually think in the scheme of things that this loss will do more for the development of both sides than the opposite result would.
Additionally, it means the All Blacks slip a bit back off the pedestal, and the Wallabies come under increased scrutiny by opponent teams in opposing WC contender unions. Look at how England chumped the Wallabies in 2003 and 2007; all teams are equally as vulnerable as one another in the RWC.
It only takes a single drop-goal.
8. Writing the ABs off at this point, on the basis of this game, is foolish.
I suspect this isn’t ‘news’ to many Roarers; it’s a fantastic outcome for Wallabies supporters but in the scheme of things it’s a return to the expected pattern of behaviour for both teams.
But the fair-weather supporters that disappeared two years ago will jump back on the bandwagon chanting ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!’ and rebuilding the traditional enmity between the countries.
That is, until the next loss, then they’ll switch back to cricket until the next Ashes loss, tennis until Stosur or Hewitt drop off again, and Formula One til Mark Webber crashes out one too many times.
9. How the Wallabies respond to a win is just as important as how they respond to a loss.
So many times we’ve seen a team get up for a massive, unexpected win against a formidable opponent, then fall over sideways twitching when their next opponents step up in a similar way.
The tour up north is not a short, easy jaunt against weak teams. It’s time for the Wallabies to demonstrate consistency and to focus on the task at hand – getting to the World Cup with the skills, knowledge and tools to beat the All Blacks.
It would be an unmitigated disaster to lose to any of the NH teams.
10. Quade Cooper is destined for notoriety.
His unprovoked attack on McCaw in McCaw’s tackle on O’Connor in the closing moments of the game indicates a streak of nastiness four foot wide running from his eyebrows to his toenails.
Admittedly McCaw could’ve released earlier; it was the game-winning try, and Nonu has been similarly aggressive to opponent players in the past. But this act alone reconfirms my opinion of him – that he’s a nasty, arrogant little piece of work.
To act in that manner in victory indicates his lack of respect and lack of class.
He’s not an ambassador of Australian rugby, he’s a very naughty boy.
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