Campo: It’s time Australian sides threw caution to the wind

David Campese Columnist

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    Digby Ioane celebrates the Reds win over the Western Force AAP Image/Dave Hunt

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    We’re heading into what will be a very interesting Super Rugby season with a number of important questions on the table: most importantly, will the Australian sides finally break away from their defensive mentality and show us some real attacking rugby?

    Rugby at this level is very much a team sport.

    Most of our Super Rugby sides have a couple of star players, but the problems they’ve faced in previous years is that they haven’t all played as a tight unit. Instead, the Australian sides have tended to take the defensive option with the fear of making a mistake.

    This is where our teams contrast with a side like the Crusaders, who set the benchmark for effective team play.

    If one of the Crusaders stars, like Dan Carter, for instance, has an off day, someone else will step up and take charge. This is the formula for winning rugby and it’s been disapointing that Australian sides haven’t risen to the challenge.

    The exception, of course, are the Reds, who were the standout team last season. But even then, they largely rode on the backs of Quade Cooper and Will Genia for much of the competition, and with Cooper out injured, they will find it very difficult to win back-to-back titles.

    Their opponents this weekend, the Waratahs, have been dissaponting in recent seasons.

    They offer a lot, but generally provide little, especially in the way of exciting, attacking rugby. Teams have a responsibility to play entertaining rugby to keep the crowds coming back, and on this front, the Waratahs have been very poor.

    They often play stupid rugby, as if they’re trying to work out which patterns they want to play while they’re on the field. Much of this is due to the Waratahs’ forwards, who tend to want to dominate. This is a legacy of Phil Waugh’s captaincy.

    The backs weren’t getting quality ball, and as a result, they’ve been afraid to try new things. And that is counter-productive in modern rugby.

    You need to be able to try things without worrying too much about what happens if they go wrong. The Waratahs backs, in particular, have been scared to try things, fearing that the opposition will capitalize. With Barnes at 10, the waratahs have a great opportunity to change all that but Barnes must have the support of the players around him and the team must think the same. If this doesn’t happen, Barnes will be under pressure to play a defensive role which is what they should avoid.

    Hopefully this season the team will focus more on scoring tries than winning by kicking goals. When New South Wales rugby is strong, the Wallabies are strong. So it’s crucial that they lift their game this season.

    The Rebels have some good attacking players, Beale and O’Connor in particular. But it remains to be seen if they have the combinations in place to work as a team. They haven’t got the forward pack they need, especially now they’ve lost Greg Sommerville, which was a big blow.

    Most games these days are won up front. And while the Rebels have great individuals, as a team, it might take another year or two until they find their feet.

    The case of O’Connor is a curious one: he wants to play closer to the action, and he keeps telling people that. But his best position is on the wing. When he comes in closer, he actually puts the defense under less pressure. He gets the ball and he’s isolated. He needs room to move in to utilise his natural speed.

    Both the Force and the Brumbies will struggle.

    It’s going to be difficult for Jake White. It’s a unique culture down there in Canberra, and the Brumbies have always had a chip on their shoulder. They need a mix of experience and youth, but I don’t think they have the old heads to do it.

    Not much has changed in rugby since I played. Most teams have the same backline movements. It’s going to take an Australian team to make bold changes, to take some risks, and to throw caution to the wind for them to really stand out in 2012.

    This is the first of a new exclusive weekly column by David Campese for The Roar.