Wallabies aren’t in Easy Company
The Australia v Scotland match was the kind of hit-and-run mission that reminded me of a great episode from the HBO series, Band of Brothers.
In “The Last Patrol”, Easy Company was stationed in the wintry town of Hagenau, on one side of a river separating them from German forward placements in the other half of town.
Command determined there was a need to show off their abilities to the upper, upper echelons and, even though the war was without a doubt winding to a close, they ordered a patrol across the river to make captures for interrogation.
No one on the ground thought the mission was wise, or at all needed. It was clearly not directly related to their chances of winning the war. The Leadership knew it would be cold, wet and possibly a great way to get killed for nothing. It was obviously a mission for those who wanted to chance their arm – for a mix of experience and endeavour.
The ARU probably shouldn’t have scheduled the match against Scotland on Tuesday. The Wallabies didn’t need to prove themselves, what they really needed was time to recover from Super Rugby and work on their combinations before the series against Wales.
John O’Neill and co decided it would be in their best interest to schedule the match so they could sell 30,000 tickets and boost their coffers. They devalued the jersey by doing this.
Moving on from whether the match should have been scheduled – the facts are that it was put in the calendar by the powers that be. The question is how to succeed.
A hit-and-run patrol is something that needs to be carefully thought out. Easy Company took the willing and planned specifically who would go where and at what time. There were diversions, there was fast movement. Purpose.
A hallmark of the All Blacks, one that I admire, is their ability to focus on the next match. They aren’t endlessly looking forward. They plan to win the next match and pick the players necessary to win the next match. I wish Australian rugby would take on that sense of purpose.
On Tuesday night, in poor conditions, the Wallabies showed the kind of purpose that was required only for short bursts during the Scotland match. There were times in the first half when, with the wind in their face, they persevered with the ball in hand and refused to kick it away even only 30m from their own line. It was the kind of tactical adjustment that was needed to make sure they didn’t leave themselves an insurmountable lead to overcome in the second half when they were running down wind.
Encouragement can be taken because they made good headway at times. If you compared the amount of time they spent in the attacking half while facing the wind with Scotland in the same situation in the second half, you will see the Wallabies were able to make the most of their situation.
Easy Company was well briefed and talked about their ability to carry out the plan successfully. This aspect of preparation is crucial to make sure every participant is in the right frame of mind. The facial expressions of Will Genia, Luke Morahan, Mike Harris, Sitaleki Timani and others during the game translated to their actions – as a viewer I got the feeling they weren’t well prepared and weren’t in the right mental state for success.
To me, it appeared their thought pattern was something like this: “Great, it’s going to be wet. It’s going to be wet; and I’m not used to that. I hope it’s not too wet and we lose.”
Great teams have a mentality more like this: “These aren’t ideal conditions but I know the plan we need to execute. I have roles to fulfil and we will succeed tonight if we all back each other up.”
What made the patrol successful for Easy Company was the ability for those in positions of leadership to see the lay of the land and – as the fighting unfolded – make good decisions. The men were deployed to cover each other’s back. While they didn’t always have safe access, they were instructed on exactly where they should be and moved swiftly to reduce the chance of being caught in the open.
In the fact of heroic defence from the Scots, the Wallabies coaching staff and leadership on the field didn’t react well to the unfolding battle. They had a single plan of attack – the pick and drive – and either couldn’t see the need or have the wherewithal to suggest an adjustment.
There were many times in the second half where I noticed the Wallabies carrying significant momentum through the second, third and fourth phases. And then it stopped.
Here was the perfect opportunity to take a calculated and well communicated risk. Yes, it was windy. Yes it was wet. And yes, the Scotland defence was swift and efficient. But the plan should have been to take advantage of the momentum and give the ball to the weapons in space.
The quickly advancing Scotland line invariably meant that first phase backline moves ended with Berrick Barnes straightening into contact or sliding the inside ball to Digby Ioane. The time to move the ball two or three passes wide of the ruck wasn’t when the defence was at its most ready, the opportunity should have been taken when they were scrambling to stop the forward momentum of the early phases.
Leadership in the field of battle was found wanting.
Spreading the ball wider could lead to players being isolated, but the essence of team sport is being able to rely upon mates for support. For Wallabies supporters a Scotland intercept try would have been gutting, but losing by penalties without really threatening was arguably more painful.
As Australian fans we are aware we don’t have the pick of the rugby cattle compared to other countries. What we do expect though is that the team represent the country with an attitude that says they are trying to win the match, rather than trying to not-lose.
The pick and drive was executed well enough to keep the match close in the wet and rain at Hunter Stadium. What was ultimately required was some endeavour and respect for their own ability to execute. No one was expecting the Wallabies to throw it around like 7s but, like Easy Company on their ill-advised patrol, we wanted to see them change the point of attack.
Will we see the same one-dimensional play on at Suncorp?
This week, once again, we aren’t fielding the strongest side available because of injuries and recovery time. That doesn’t change the fact that I expect to see them operate in a manner that suggests communication by coaches in the lead-up and a plan to be executed. I want to see our professional representatives back themselves to adapt in the heat of battle.
I hope Robbie Deans hasn’t just chosen ‘the best team available’ and accepting whatever outcome that can produce, while we wait for our injured and tired to return.
Take on the Easy Company mindset, accept the circumstance and plan to find a way to win.
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