Australia’s 2012 Super Rugby postmortem
Let’s take a short (and subjective) look at how Australia’s Super Rugby teams went in 2012.
As a long-term and long-suffering Waratahs fan, one becomes inured to failure, year after year. I have little remaining hair, my enamel is worn from grinding, my throat hoarse from expletives. It all feels familiar.
The Waratahs started the year by losing Kurtley Beale to the Rebels and swapping Ben Mowen for a seriously injured Rocky Elsom. They continued it by constantly employing the box kick to throw away such hard-won possession as they had. If it didn’t go out on the full, it went straight to a defender.
It became so disheartening that one Saturday evening I sat in the Dolphin watching it on the TV because I couldn’t be bothered walking to the SFS. It wasn’t raining, or particularly cold, but the thought of queueing up endlessly for overpriced flat beer and a cold pie to accompany the dross the Waratahs were serving up was too much to bear.
And don’t get me started on the RSA stuff. How many beers have you had sir? None actually, I’ve been in the queue for 42 minutes. I ended up standing outside the pub with the doorman watching it through the window. Our shared, abject, disbelief was testament to the incompetence the Waratahs displayed that night.
Only a complete clean-out of management and coaching, along with some of the playing group, can fix this mess. For a team boasting so many Wallabies they are making a hash of it. Unfortunately the board has retained the coaching staff – here’s hoping they have learned some hard lessons.
The rockstar backline – a Wallaby-capped halfback serving it up to the likes of Cipriani, JOC, Beale, and league recruit Cooper Vuna. A workmanlike pack ably led by Welshman Gareth Delve. The venerable Sir Sterling to lead his young charges forward and make their mark in season two. So what happened?
Well, not a lot, actually. Sir Sterling was mostly crocked. About halfway through the season someone woke up and realised Cips is a worse tackler than Quade Cooper (sad but true) and wasn’t going to do anything other than stand deep in the pocket and boot the leather off it.
His early release was a bit of a turning point, especially because KB had a run in the 10 shirt and demonstrated (as he did in Christchurch playing for the ‘tahs in 2008) that there is at least a faint possibility that he should be the Wallaby 10 as well.
A couple of high-table scalps or near scalps were seized. If only the Rebels management could grab some good Pumas players (read props) to fill a couple of their extended foreign quota, they might start to go well. I think they got the wrong Cooper though – is Cooper Cronk’s NRL contract up yet?
Is it just my impression, or did the Rebels take the Force off everyone’s radar? The only Force players you immediately remember are David Pocock and Nathan Charles, the former for sublime breakdown work, the latter for the triumph of mind over matter. Nathan Sharpe has retired. Do they have any backs?
In fairness, on googling the player bios I recognised a few others – McCalman, Stannard, Holmes, Mafi, Ma’afu, Cowan, Brown. Mostly because they played for the Wallabies, or perhaps Eastwood or Sydney University, at some point. They have not been the same since Firepower, and their high-paid imports followed the money elsewhere.
Yet watching them play wasn’t so bad. They had a crack, even at the finals-bound Crusaders. At least they didn’t box kick all day. They seem to have slipped since that heady evening of their first home win at Subiaco. Another team which the ARU should allow to bring in a couple of Puma players, probably in the backs in this instance.
Goodbye player power, hello the firm guiding hand of Jake White. A bunch of no-names who faltered at the last hurdle and lost their finals spot. A bunch with both of their first-choice five-eighths out with long-term injuries for much of the season. At 13, Andrew Smith: seven ft tall, 130 muscular kilograms, runs the hundred metres in 10.1 seconds in rugby boots (OK, I’m exaggerating).
They gave explicit lessons that the Waratahs should note, about training and about a game plan that does not involve kicking to the other side. And one about swapping an injured veteran for a good young player who may well feature in the Wallaby back row soon.
I had a feeling bringing in a coach about my age (25 years older than the players) was a good idea. People respond to smart leadership, and the man has the runs on the board. The Brumbies played above expectations this season. They have a young squad, they are being well coached and developed, and to the outsider it seems like the player versus coach squabbles of the past (going back to David Nucifora) have departed with the ‘senior player leadership group’.
Sorry, but I’m a fan of what the late Sir Henry Bolte once said – you are put in charge to make decisions and lead people, not to persuade them to agree with you.
The defending champions’ season was severely disrupted by injury in the early going. At one stage I recall them missing their top three five-eighths. I can’t remember the name of the young chappie they called in mid-season, but have a vague recollection he was injured too.
Yet, despite the horror start, Link got them going when the injured returned to action, they won several on the trot, pinched the conference quarter-final berth… and choked. No whining about referee Kaplan here, I’ll leave that to other contributors. No whining about losing Big Kev to yet another long-term injury at the business end.
Probably the best Australian team this year and deserved to top the conference, and would have finished well ahead of the Ponies if not for the wounded list. Funny thing is they did better against the Sharks in Durban early in the season with several key players crocked than they did at Suncorp with most of their first-pick team.
They certainly as a group had final experience; Genia was immense; Higginbotham played a bit wide for my personal liking, but if that’s the team game plan, so be it. The Sharks looked hungrier, the ball bounced their way (more than once) and that was that.
What I liked was how annoyed Genia, and as I saw it, Digby, were at the end. The Reds are going to shred a few teams next year, and hopefully that will flow through to the Wallabies against the Lions. As for Quade Cooper missing the quarter-final, anyone else find it ironic he was suspended for finally making a tackle?
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