What next for second-best Wallabies?
The Wallabies were almost caught out by Los Pumas on Saturday night. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
Let’s not forget that the 2012 Wallabies, with some help from their 2011 teammates, are the second-best rugby team in the world. And this is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
The third-best team, the Springboks, are in relative disarray and under massive scrutiny from their press and supporters. The first-ranked team, the New Zealand All Blacks, are unlikely to lose sufficient form and hence games to give up the top spot.
The Wallabies have beaten Wales, the top ranked European team, four times in a row in recent times.
So what lies ahead?
Firstly, leaders need to emerge from the player group and take control of that group. Not just the on-field captain but the guys with the brains and leadership authority and communication ability of the group – Horwill, Pocock, Genia and even youngsters like Hooper, Gill, Foley and Stirzacker.
They need to initiate the decision and implement it. Coaches cannot do it. They can seed the idea with the leaders, but the leaders must do it.
Secondly, and most importantly, with such a dominant team in first-place, the Wallabies need to decide, as a group, to either consolidate second or go for first.
This means a conscious decision, written in blood by all players in the group, injured and fit, and done so fervently, that the agreement is instilled in everything that they do in every aspect of their preparation and on-field performance.
Thirdly, it then needs to be implemented and lived out. It needs to become an obsession; one where they live, eat, sleep, dream and breath it. They need to observe and know their opposition inside out; stalk them and dominate them physically and mentally.
This decision only works if there is true honesty. With true honesty comes a bond that will continue for the rest of their lives and that expands upon the Wallabies jersey.
When this group decision is not upheld, the group need to openly discuss it and decide what steps to take. Every player has a standard to achieve, consistently. Repeat offenders get moved on until they are prepared to abide by the group decision and bring consistency.
Take Quade Cooper as an example. He is not yet back to his best. This is clear. However, to fail to clear a simple kick for the line is unacceptable for any fly half or fullback.
Berrick Barnes’s multiple failures at short drop outs is also unacceptable. Kurtley Beale’s poor defence in Sydney is unacceptable. And so it goes on.
Aimless, brainless kicking is also unacceptable. Moving away from the agreed game plan by any player is also unacceptable.
The hooker must throw every lineout throw straight, even if it is a very windy night. Polota Nau and Horne specifically must remove kamikaze tackles when they are out of position (tackling technique) from their game.
The risk of injury is simply too high and there is too much invested in these players to lose them to major injuries.
Penalties have a very large impact on a rugby game. As a golfer says, you lose stroke and distance if you concede a penalty. Worse, you can concede three points. Penalties must be eliminated and are an unacceptable error. Yellow cards are even more serious.
The area of greatest confusion is the breakdown. Each referee bringing a different interpretation and further complicates this. Err on the side of caution. If you are prepared to kick possession away 15 to 25 times a game, why risk conceding “stroke and distance” or three points to get the ball back?
Being the second-ranked team requires a decision. Consolidate or strive to be number one. For the Wallabies, the supporters will say go for number one.
It is the stuff of all great teams and they often emerge from very dark days. Just ask the 1984 and 1999 Wallabies teams.
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