Wallabies in Auckland: Faint hope is still hope
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The Wallabies couldn't keep up with the All Blacks in their 27-19 loss on Saturday (AAP Image/Paul Miller).
The Kiwis are calling the $1.10 from the bookies (if they were quick) an investment ‘better than bank interest’, and indeed, my forum question yesterday whether they had even considered the prospect of the Eden Park fortress falling drew few responses.
Simply put, New Zealand sees tomorrow night’s second and possibly deciding Bledisloe fixture as a done deal. On current form, it’s hard to argue with them.
For Wallabies supporters last week, Sydney was horrible to watch, and you’d hope it was equally painful for the team. Certainly, seven changes to the starting XV (albeit some injury-forced) suggests an element of angst.
But for all their sky-high confidence, and non-consideration of defeat, our friends over the ditch are forgetting one little detail: no matter how horrible the form, there is more than one horse in a two-horse race.
Straw-clutching and tenuous optimism starts… now.
There can be no repeat of 18-3 after 30 minutes; the Wallabies need to come out firing from the moment the anthems start, and stare down the Haka. They need to ‘shush’ the Eden Park crowd.
The Wallabies need to treat this match as though it could be theirs and Robbie Deans’ last. If some Roarers get their way, it could just be the case. Like headlines carrying the word ‘gallant’, anything less than a clinical, eighty -minute, 22-man performance cannot be tolerated.
Simply put, the Wallabies cannot leave anything in the sheds tomorrow night. They need to come out like they did in Brisbane last year and be sharp, fast and physical at the breakdown, and then turn that breakdown physicality into fast, attacking ball.
They have to get the All Blacks on the back foot from the outset, and hopefully force them into playing catch-up rugby.
The turnaround must start up front.
Ideally, you don’t want to be noticing the work ‘around the park’ of your tight five, but this is a week where they need to be seen, and in particular locks Sitaleki Timani and Nathan Sharpe need to throw their large frames into the contest.
Stephen Moore will be itching to prove he’s the best hooker in the country in a rare 2012 start, and has to be another senior forward leading the way in the breakdown battle.
Ben Alexander needs a solid game in all facets to remove the seeds of doubt and hesitation that seem to have crept into his game again.
To paraphrase John Lennon’s famous line, Alexander hasn’t even been the best tighthead in Canberra this season. Likewise, Benn Robinson needs to start rewarding the coaches for their selection room generosity. Greg Holmes must be a patient man.
There’s no question Michael Hooper will running on pure, unfiltered adrenalin on Saturday night, and there’s no point in him trying to harness any nervous energy. Just like the David Crofts and Brett Robinsons of Australian teams past, you simply cannot go easy in the rare opportunity to wear the number seven jersey vacated by a master.
His speed at the defensive line was superb for the Brumbies this year, and he can provide that running link game that David Pocock does not. But he also needs to be sure of his hands, forget any instincts of silly little George Smith grubber kicks, and pilfer like he’s never pilfered before.
Hooper comes in without any ghosts of past Eden Park losses; indeed, it’s a ground he’s never played at. He faces a supreme opponent he knows only by reputation and footage, but his days on the simulator are done. He must face this beast in the flesh.
Scott Higginbotham and Dave Dennis should put Sydney down to experience and use it to their benefit. Neither were the worst on the field, but both were a long way behind the best and were outpointed by their opposites.
Higginbotham and Dennis were among their province’s best this season though – Dennis won the Matthew Burke Cup as the Waratahs best, in what probably was a small field – and both are playing in the Super Rugby positions at which they excelled.
Neither presented as midfield running options in Sydney, but both possess strong running games that the Wallabies need. The Sonny Bill Williams and Ma’a Nonu midfield wasn’t challenged last Saturday, and Higginbotham and Dennis need to pop up in Quade Cooper’s and Berrick Barnes’ periphery to counter the rushing defence.
The return of Cooper is the right call. Immediately, a Cooper-Barnes combination provides more attacking and kicking options. I think a trick has been missed by not moving Adam Ashley-Cooper to outside centre, but what’s done is done now. Kurtley Beale would not have turned out two shockers in a row.
At least this week, for all his failings, you know that Cooper will try his hand. Cooper brings inside running options into the play more effectively than Barnes does, and indeed, will provide more running options himself. The back three will feature much more frequently in attack than the week before, and they have to.
Ashley-Cooper and wingers Drew Mitchell and Digby Ioane need to look no further than how the New Zealand back three combined last weekend for their blueprint.
Will Genia must lead from the front and provide quick ball all night. It’s true that the ball-slowing last week was often at the behest of others, but Genia must take charge and order his team-mates to get to the positions they need to be in, in the time-frame they’re required to be there. Essentially, Genia must imagine he’s wearing red, and bark like a hungry cattle dog.
Robbie Deans and his team must stay on the pulse, too. They need to be quick to address game-plan deviations, and should err on the side of too early for their bench rotations, rather than too late. This is as big a game for them as it is for the players.
The Wallabies do have some hope in this match, however faint it may appear. They must believe that at some point, the second horse will win.
Brett McKay is a former non-tackling scrumhalf and not-quite-1st Grade middle order stalwart. A rugby and cricket expert for The Roar since July 2009 (having joined in Sept 2008), Brett has written for Inside Rugby and Cricket Australia, and is also PLAY Canberra's rugby correspondent. He tweets from @BMcSport
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