Lessons learned by the Wallabies, perhaps?
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Wallaby Kurtley Beale speaks with teammate James O'Connor and coach Robbie Deans.
When I was a boy, I can vividly recall my grandmother issuing me with the same “unless you’ve got something nice to say, say nothing at all” advice that I’m sure thousands, millions of grandmothers have given to their grandsons the world over.
To which I’ll just say that it’s a good thing the Wallabies discovered the error of their ways in the second half on Saturday night in Perth, otherwise my column today would’ve been pretty brief.
(As an aside, on current form, I’m sure a blank screen about the Wallabies would still produce debate!)
Plainly, the first half wasn’t good enough. It was worse than that; it was total crap. It got so bad at one stage that I genuinely thought I’d see ‘grubber kicks’ and ‘WTF!’ appearing in the national trending lists on Twitter.
Every person with a keyboard was using the same three-letter-acronym to question what the bloody hell the Wallabies were doing.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans’ observations of the first half were interesting in that his message and demeanour broke new ground.
In that thirty second grab, I reckon we saw Deans the most frustrated and most brutally honest he’s ever been in a match situation:
“Yeah obviously [we were kicking poorly and giving away cheap ball], we had something like eight very average exits from our end… we were carrying it to the edge and then putting silly, dribbly kicks in behind giving up possession at the wrong end of the ground.
“So if we can take that out of our game, we’ll go a long way toward being able to get into the game, build some pressure, and get an outcome. Because when we built pressure, we did profit.”
Well said, coach. Finally. I’m still a bit worried that what obviously wasn’t a tactic was utilised numerous times in that opening forty by default.
The fact that Berrick Barnes, Kurtley Beale and Quade Cooper kept persisting with that “silly, dribbly kick” says that the actual tactics were either being ignored completely, or worse, had been forgotten.
The logical conclusion to that sort of evidence is that Deans’ message is not getting through. And if that is the case, there’s generally only one outcome.
Fortunately, the halftime message and the associated paint-stripping spray that you’d hope Deans delivered did get through to the players, and we saw a completely different side in the second half.
The question now becomes have the Wallabies finally learned the lesson that possession is the key to winning games of rugby?
The forwards were strong in the contest this time around, and Sitaleki Timani – who will miss the Argentina game now with a hamstring strain – once again led the way here along with Tatafu Polota-Nau.
Radike Samo was surprisingly effective at no. 8 and played a game well beyond his years and relative fitness levels.
Scott Higginbotham will once again come into calculations to regain the blindside flanker’s berth, and Michael Hooper just did brilliantly what he’s been doing all year.
Liam Gill, too, impressed in his short burst.
The backline makeup is still something of a lottery, though.
If Barnes is truly ignoring the gameplan and persists with kicking away ball like he did in the first half, then his position in the team is bordering on untenable.
But then when you factor in his six-from-six night from the kicking tee, and the fact that Cooper’s general kicking in play doesn’t have anywhere hear the length that Barnes does, the issue becomes somewhat clouded.
Ben Tapuai will see his name thrown up a lot this week, and there probably isn’t a better running inside centre in Australia.
However, he doesn’t have a kicking game at all, and as we saw in Sydney at the start of The Rugby Championship, it puts too much pressure on the individual going into a game as the sole kicker.
Pat McCabe came through his 30-minute ACTRU grand final cameo unscathed, and will undoubtedly be thrown back into the mix too, but he brings the same non-kicking issue to the selection table as does Tapuai.
Therefore, it might be a case that Mike Harris is the one to come into the side, unless – and this might ruffle some feathers – Barnes holds his place. That wouldn’t be a popular scenario, but it shouldn’t be discounted, either.
One change that will have to be made is at scrumhalf, where the decisions of the past to keep backups on the pine for all 480 minutes of the previous six Test matches is about to come home to roost.
Before going off on Saturday night, Will Genia’s only spell had been the ten minutes he spent in the sin bin in Auckland.
Now an anterior cruciate ligament rupture has been confirmed for Genia, and a rehabilitation period that will include a good chunk of next year’s Super Rugby tournament has been locked in.
In turn, Australia must now play out the Rugby Championship, including upcoming tours to South Africa and Argentina with the third best scrumhalf in the country (with ten minutes of rugby under his belt in the last two months) and a guy not seen in these colours since 2006.
Aside from the evident captain’s curse, spare a thought for Nic White.
My understanding of his situation is that after being ruled out of the first Bledisloe with a shoulder complaint, White was then asked to go back a prove his fitness with Queanbeyan.
He duly did, and indeed, kicked them into a semi-final on the back of 80 dominant minutes.
He was then overlooked for the South African Test again as a reward, and with no apparent objection or suggestion otherwise, he had a shoulder reconstruction last Thursday.
His Wallaby experiences in 2012 are boggling many a mind currently.
All in all, this presents an interesting week ahead in Wallabyland.
Combinations are going to be pushed out of their current ‘makeshift’ status by sheer necessity, a more forwards-laden method of making metres might be preferred out of a lack of trust that the backs know what they’re doing, and no-one will be volunteering to be named Captain.
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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