Wallabies forced to play safe to keep their places
If Adam Ashley-Cooper talking about “a new team… a new start… [and a] new performance” didn’t sound alarm bells, his follow-up certainly did.
“Individually, I think everyone has something to prove.”
When will the Wallabies, and other teams with a luxury of choice, stop espousing a team ethos that there is competition for all spots?
Whilst convention is that this will bring out the best in players, the reality is that individual players will have to show what they can do, and the whole team is pressed into not making mistakes.
This can quickly translate into ‘playing not to lose’.
I wrote last week that it is very easy for a team to conjure up reasons to believe in their own resolute determination, and showing a lack of respect for their opposition will not enhance this.
On Sunday, Samoa was not shown the respect that they should have been shown – a view not based on any judgment of their skill or ability, but simply because they were the team opposing the Wallabies in a Test match.
Opting not to take at least three kickable penalties in the first quarter of the game only aggravated the feebleness of intent in the play of the Wallabies.
Shows of arrogance often come in subtle ways, with not so subtle ongoing effects.
If the penalties had been kicked, the scores at that point of the game would have been closer. If they had missed, no grave expectation would have been generated.
But the fact that they were forgone set up a scenario in which a failure to capitalise on these decisions would push uncertainty and doubt into a game in which the momentum was very clearly running with Samoa.
Unfortunately, and quite unnecessarily, hoped-for outcomes are at the forefront of player talk before games.
The truth is that is quite undemanding for players to see hope for a fresh start, as Ashley-Cooper did. or Digby Ioane to call for a “stylish start … (and) to make the first statement”.
If there is a lesson to be learnt, we now see how such statements can set off distractions that get in the way of rationale thinking during the course of the game; as well as unsettling both on and off-field personnel, as doubt and panic take hold.
The absurdity of the situation was only emphasised in the second half of the game when Will Genia and Kurtley Beale were brought on to resurrect the game.
The number one rule in making any unforced substitution is that the whole team must have been prepared to initiate a new strategy at the time of the substitution, one that gives fresh players at least a chance to assert themselves via new and different team tactics.
To leave it to a couple of first-tier players to make a difference is risky, foolish, and will, more than likely, make no difference.
Let’s hope that the views expressed by Stephen Moore, after the game, are reconsidered, re-evaluated and dismissed, “We don’t have to change things much. We just have to do things better”.
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