SPIRO: June Test series is a winner
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The Wallabies were brought back down to earth by Scotland (AAP Image/Paul Miller)
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It has surprised me that so many people were disappointed Wales did not defeat the Wallabies in Melbourne. I don’t mean the usual suspects, like Mike Carlton and the John Connolly camp of dissidents (which includes one prominent rugby writer – no names).
Just ordinary sports lovers, like the NRMA chap who so splendidly fixed up my car battery that had gone flat while I was in Mebourne (hint: don’t leave the boot slightly ajar with the light on).
Anyway, he told me after he had fixed everything up that he felt Wales deserved to win and was disappointed for them when they didn’t.
To me this is nonsense. Teams don’t deserve to win. The name of the game is to win. As I heard the late great Fred Allen tell someone who suggested the All Blacks were lucky to defeat the Springboks in a close Test at Christchurch: ‘A win is a win, son.’
The crucial aspect of the win over Wales, as Paul Cully pointed out yesterday on The Roar, is that the Wallabies pulled off a superb driving maul from the last lineout in the match to force a penalty. The Wallabies are not a mauling side. Yet they achieved a perfect rolling maul when they desperately needed it.
And Mike Harris had to kick the penalty from near the touchline to get the winning points.
The same sort of comment applies to the All Blacks in their last minute victory over Ireland. They won a scrum penalty just outside their own 22. From the lineout inside Ireland’s half they mounted a varied, tough and well-executed 14-phase attack to allow Dan Carter a shot at a drop goal.
The referee got in the way of the pass from Piri Weepu and Carter had his kick touched in flight.
From the five-metre scrum, which was as steady as a rock, Carter was able to kick the winning drop goal.
The point here is that both the Wallabies and the All Blacks got their crucial points when they desperately needed they really needed them.
And what this gets down to is that the rugby culture in Australia and New Zealand, and in the southern hemisphere countries, is a culture focussed on scoring points.
It is no accident, in my view, that the Springboks (against England) and the Pumas (against France) also scored in the last minutes of play in their Tests last weekend to ensure their home victories.
Robert Kitson, a fair-minded, well-informed and stylish rugby writer for The Guardian, has listed the five lessons for the northern hemisphere sides from the June series in the southern hemisphere:
1. Test rugby is an 80-minute game.
2. Winning in the southern hemisphere is as hard as ever.
3. England need to learn from Wales and Ireland.
4. The rugby law book needs reviving.
5. Rugby is only a game.
On lesson three, the point is that England played really brain-dead rugby against the Springboks. The halfback, Ben Youngs, from his first touch, inside his 22, to almost his last touch kept on putting in box kicks.
The first kick, after England fielded the kick-off, was caught by the Springboks well inside England’s half and lead to their opening try.
The tactic (which does not deserve this description) gave the ball back continually to the rampaging Springboks who smashed up a strong first half lead which England could not overcome.
The irony in all of this is that England found huge gaps in the Springboks defence which they turned into tries when they finally ran the ball.
On lesson four, I would remind Robert that it was the so-called Home Unions, led by England’s RFU, which killed off the ELVs package which did simplify the laws of rugby in a holostic rather than a piece-meal manner.
I would make a slight diversion here to note that in the Junior World Cup which is taking place in South Africa, with the finalists being New Zealand and South Africa, the Junior Wales XV adopted the same tactics as England in their semi-final against England.
Using these tactics in the rain in their pool match against the Junior All Blacks, Wales recorded a memorable victory. But on a dry ground in the semi-final Wales were comfortably defeated 30-6. Like the Springboks, the Junior All Blacks used the ball to score points.
And this is the lesson that Brian Moore, usually an anti-southern hemispjere curmudgeon, makes after last weekend’s results: “England, Wales and Ireland, he wrote, still trail the southern hemisphere giants were it counts – on the scoreboard.”
The series system, though, has given these three teams a final chance to get things right. This is what the format so interesting. Ireland learnt the lesson of their first Test and almost pulled off a victory in the second.
Will the All Blacks learn from this experience?
The Wallabies seemed to have most aspects of the Wales game covered at Melbourne. Can Wales come up with any surprises? Will Kurtley Beale light up the Wallabies attack?
Can England play any other game than a kicking-reliant style? Or will they go back to the Sir Clive Woodward style of ball-in-hand, thunderous set pieces and kicking for position only?
It’s up to the coaches now to come up with some new plays and counters to plays that have proved hard for their teams in these June series to counter, so far.
As Sun-Tzu, Rod Macqueen’s favourite guru on coaching, noted: “Battles are won before they are fought.”
Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.
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