Are expectations of the Wallabies inflated?
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Wallabies Will Genia passes from a scrum. AAP Image/Mick Tsikas
After a rare rugby-free weekend – following a week where no upcoming games meant all discussion was dominated by rumours, speculation, and guesswork – I took some time out for a bit of introspection.
In between washing cars, seeing the odd score and taking two- and four-legged kids for walks, I couldn’t help but think that we as Australian sports fans more often than not set ourselves up for failure.
After last week’s column damn near topped my PB for comments generated (which was only set a few weeks ago, so thanks gang!), it occurred to me that the current hysteria around Robbie Deans’ tenure might be of our own doing.
All the current talk about what Deans has or hasn’t achieved is not too dissimilar to what went on in the last days of John Connolly, or even of Eddie Jones before him. The current bloke is hopeless, and this other guy here – who hasn’t coached internationally – is going to be the man to turn Australian rugby around.
Never mind that the current state of the game is less than flash in so many areas below the Wallabies, even below the Super rugby teams; this new bloke is going to lead the recovery on the little marsupial’s back.
It’s not even unique to rugby. Despite no real form line to justify it, we expected our Olympians to dominate in London as if it was Sydney 2000 all over again. We expected the Magnussons and Rices to clean up like Thorpe and O’Neill.
The same can easily said for the Australian cricket team. Cowan is not Hayden; Warner isn’t Gilchrist, and Ponting’s barely Ponting anymore. Pattinson isn’t McGrath, and Lyon certainly isn’t Warne.
Clearly, our sporting exploits and talents at the national and international level go in cycles. Form and depth both go up and down over time. Yet our expectations stay at the highest levels. Not meeting these over-inflated expectations is seen to be failure, and any attempts to revise expectations is said to be accepting of mediocrity.
Which frankly, Roarers, is complete garbage.
The current Wallabies side is nowhere near as good or as talented as those great teams of the past. Forget 1999, 1991, and even 1984. 2005 and 1995-6 are probably closer to the mark. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that. In fact, if we’re honest, we should be admitting that.
Like it or not, we don’t have the McKenzies and Dalys upfront; We haven’t had Finnegan and Kefu types on the side and back of the scrum for ages, and we’re definitely not lifting an Eales or a Steve Williams in the lineout any more.
Quade Cooper is a very talented flyhalf, but he doesn’t have the all-round game that Stephen Larkham or Michael Lynagh or Mark Ella had. Perhaps the mercurial and oft-maligned David Knox is closer to the mark.
Anthony Fainga’a is not Tim Horan, and Rob Horne is certainly not Jason Little.
So this being the case, why has there been so much blood-letting about Wallaby performances in 2012?
Our Super Rugby record this year shows three of the bottom four teams, one falling out of the finals, and another one falling in. By Semi-Final weekend, we were done.
With every Wallaby training squad named this year, there’s been consistent scratching of heads and questions of the readiness of some selections. Right now, even ignoring the injuries that plague the squad, there really are only 20 or 25 players of Test quality. And note, ‘Test quality’ certainly does not equal World XV selection.
So despite the platitudes and promises coming out of HQ when Deans was appointed, why didn’t we allow our own objective views and opinions to realise that this couldn’t possibly be the case?
Australia wasn’t as good as New Zealand, and the Wallabies may not have been as good as the great Crusaders. With the number of departures at the time, the 2008 squad was a distance behind what went to the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
So why did we allow ourselves to swallow the line that Deans would be the messiah?
Roarer Elisha Pearce said it beautifully last week: “I don’t think we have the best cattle in the world. Just like I don’t think we should be winning 70% of our games against the All Blacks.” Later he commented that 30-40% feels about right and should be achievable, and I’d agree with that. That’s still only going to win the Bledisloe every third or fourth year, but that has to be better than in the eleventh.
It’s been well documented that the All Blacks have won north of 80% of matches against all opponents since Robbie Deans became the Wallabies coach. Even South Africa, who have the best record against New Zealand in that time, have won only 45% of games against the All Blacks.
So if Deans moves on or is moved on before his current contract comes up, will the same lofty goals be set for the next Wallaby coach? For those currently hovering the axe over Deans; will it be similarly reached for in four years time if only two Bledisloe wins in ten games is the record?
For what it’s worth, even Alan Jones, who bizarrely is still being tossed up as a possible replacement, managed a win rate of less than 40% against the All Blacks.
Again, a revision of our expectations of the Wallabies should not be seen as accepting mediocrity. Indeed, if form and squad depth goes in peaks and troughs, it’s only fair that expectations similarly rise and fall. To expect a lesser team to perform at a constantly world-class standard is both unrealistic and illogical.
By all means, question the gameplan, the tactics, and the selections made and not made. But in doing that, we should also allow ourselves to view the bigger picture and set our goals and expectations accordingly. It’s surely only fair, for both ourselves and Australian rugby as a whole.
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