O’Connell vs McKay, round 2: a leaguie grills a rah-rah, again
Kurtley Beale ruled out of Rugby World Cup semi-final against the All Blacks (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
Having committed myself to taking a look at the development of Sevens rugby in Australia next week, I’ve jolted my expert colleague, Ryan O’Connell, back into action by deciding to take his grill questions earlier than anticipated.
We love these ‘leaguie grills a rah-rah’ collaborative pieces, because having questions come from a relative outsider forces us to tackle alternate perspectives and observations about our codes of choice. It’s the very point of interactivity that The Roar was built on.
As per the previous round of O’Connell v McKay, and as Ryan explained on Tuesday, I didn’t get these questions until late yesterday, meaning there was very little time for me to put these answers together before earning the promised wrath of a nervous editor.
Anyway, here goes…
Ryan: Matt Giteau said Robbie Deans has poor man management skills. Quade Cooper said the Wallabies set-up is a toxic environment. Richie McCaw stated that Deans doesn’t listen to his assistants. Is this growing evidence to suggest Deans has serious flaws as a coach? Or simply the opinion of three individuals with agendas?
Brett: Whoa, so much for an easy question first. It’s certainly the opinion of two individuals with agendas, that’s for sure. I don’t think either Giteau or Cooper would be too sad to see Robbie Deans moved on.
McCaw didn’t quite say Deans didn’t listen to his assistants in that now widely-publicised book excerpt (and released just before a Bledisloe and in time for Christmas, what a wonderful coincidence!). What he actually said was that Deans didn’t necessarily like to be challenged by his assistants at the Crusaders, which is slightly different. What McCaw is saying is that Deans was more of the domineering head coach, rather than coaching via committee.
Regardless, it’s given those that needed or wanted more evidence that Deans has serious flaws further ammunition, definitely. Frankly, whether a coach prefers the ‘my way or the highway’ method, or a more collaborative model, is neither here nor there to me.
The only currency that matters is the ‘win’ column. And it’s fair to say Deans’ currency in the only exchange that seems to matter – playing New Zealand – has been trading at well below parity. It’s been reported that the ARU board may make a decision after Brisbane, so I guess we’ll see soon enough if Deans’ Bledisloe record is what ultimately costs him his job.
ROC: Now that LeBron James has won an NBA Championship, I think he’ll reach even greater heights with the monkey off his back. I get exactly the same feeling about the All Blacks and their Rugby World Cup triumph. What do you think?
BM: So I see you’ve dealt with the Bulldogs’ grand final loss by moving straight onto the NBA…
Subtle dig aside, I like your analogy and I reckon you’re bang on. The fact that the All Blacks are unbeaten in 2012 adds weight to the theory, too. It must be anything but depressing for those at New Zealand Rugby Union HQ in Wellington to walk past every bloody rugby trophy under the sun, while our friends at St. Leonards walk past dead flies and cobwebs daily. Anyway, I digress…
In the New Zealand press this week, Mark Reason (who’s not everyone’s cup of tea) wrote, “Kieran Read, Aaron Smith and Dan Carter are better than very good. There is a chance that in the next couple of years, they could develop into the best triumvirate of all time. The link between number eight, half back and first five has always defined the great rugby teams and this All Blacks team may yet approach those heights.”
On the surface, this seems like a big call, but when you look at the individuals named – and even with Carter having had a 30th birthday now – it’s easy to see that these three could play for another five years, and upwards of 50 Tests together.
Of the three, only Read has won a Rugby World Cup, and although Carter’s record is still impressive, the hunger of these three will be crucial to sustained success.
As a Wallaby supporter, it’s actually quite sobering to think how good the All Blacks might become between now and then without any major weight of expectation, as you rightly suggest.
ROC: Considering the injury toll, is it difficult to truly gauge the Wallabies performance in this year’s Rugby Championship? Or is that a cop-out?
BM: I’ll guarantee that comments today will absolutely say the injury toll means it’s difficult to gauge the performance in TRC this year. There’s nothing surer.
I get that. It’s an easy out to say this was a third XV, or to point to the 20-odd injuries. And that’s not to say the injuries aren’t a factor in selection; of course they are. But the truth is there are always players unavailable for some reason, as there are in any professional sport you’d care to name.
So that’s why I’ve largely ignored the injury toll in offering my thoughts on games, instead preferring to focus on what played out in front of me. And on that front I think the performance on the field has been disappointing. The records will show the Wallabies finished second in the comp, but you have to dig deeper than that.
The Wallabies conceded more points than they scored, to the tune of more than five converted tries, they scored the equal-least number of tries in the tournament, and they achieved no bonus points at all. Evident skill levels were low and error rates were high.
And any series in which you’re letting in more points than you’re scoring can’t really be viewed favourably, in my humble opinion.
ROC: This time next year, will Kurtley Beale and Michael Hooper be wearing the number 10 and 7 jerseys, respectively, for the Wallabies?
BM: Beale definitely should be wearing the no.10 next year, for both the Rebels and the Wallabies. Berrick Barnes was good in the June series, but Beale now looks the most complete option at flyhalf in Australia.
He definitely deserves to be the chief playmaker to Europe and into the Lions series next year. He’s become precisely the player he was expected to be when he first left school, albeit without the same level of success.
Hooper is not as certain to wear the no.7 though, and that’s despite the outstanding series he’s had in TRC. How he performs in the Waratahs environment next year, and how David Pocock performs in Hooper’s old Brumbies jumper will ultimately decide this one, and I certainly won’t be writing off Pocock. But it is great to have quality options at openside again.
ROC: What would you deem a successful Spring Tour for the Wallabies?
BM: If winning only three from six games in TRC, and the general performance being labelled “disappointing” is the guide, then I’d reason the Wallabies would need three wins from four in Europe to have a successful tour.
That’s not an impossible task, but it will require very good performances – better than anything we’ve seen so far in 2012 – in the opening games against France and England. They should account for Italy in Florence, and Wales haven’t beaten Australia home or away since 2008.
It can be done though, and I’ll be suitably impressed if and when they do.
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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