Let the light shine in on the Wallabies
Australia's Ben Tapuai is tackled by Daniel Carter (left) and Richie McCaw (right) of New Zealand - Image: AFP/Patrick Hamilton.
On Saturday morning I lined up for a usual cup of excellent coffee from my local deli when a good old boy virtually accosted me and called out: “What are we going to do to fix up the Wallabies?!”
“They’re number two in the world rankings,” I replied somewhat testily.
“When was the last time they’ve been number 2?”
I know, I know. I shouldn’t have been so terse and testy with a well-meaning good old boy. It was not a nice thing to do. But every now and again the pessimism and the ‘we’re all rooned’ attitude of Australian rugby supporters needs to be confronted.
Sure, the Wallabies aren’t scoring tries. They’ve scored 12 in 12 Tests this year. And they were beaten by Scotland (for goodness sake!) in their first local Test this season.
But they defeated a Wales side that won the 2012 Six Nations and was rated the best Welsh side to leave the homeland three-nil in their Australian series. The Pumas were defeated at home and here. The Springboks defeated here and lost to in South Africa.
The problem that needs fixing is that the Wallabies can’t beat the All Blacks. They lost two Tests to them and drew the last at fortress Brisbane.
Now here’s the good news. That 18-18 draw represented the first time in 105 Tests that the All Blacks were kept try-less.
I’ll repeat that: the All Blacks did not score a try in the Brisbane Test for the first time in 105 Tests!
This defensive effort could only be achieved by a team with spirit and heart, something that ‘toxic’ Quade Cooper could take on board if he gets to play in the Wallaby gold jersey again.
The other outstanding achievement this year is that with the need to play 38 players, most of whom have strengthened their claims for further Test duties, the Wallabies now have a lot of depth in all the positions.
Players like Nick Cummins, Ben Tapuai, Kane Douglas and Michael Hooper, for instance, are now challenging for a permanent position in the Wallabies when they weren’t even considered at the beginning of the season.
Back to the All Blacks and the matter of how the Wallabies can’t beat them. Under Graham Henry, the All Blacks achieved 23 straight victories in Europe on their November/December tours, although there was a loss in Europe to France in the quarter-final of the 2007 Rugby World Cup at Cardiff.
So it is not only the Wallabies who have struggled against the All Blacks. Before Graham Henry’s coaching stint with them, the All Blacks had achieved one Grand Slam tour (wins against England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland on one tour). Henry’s All Blacks tried the Grand Slam twice and won it twice.
Wales hasn’t defeated the All Blacks since 1953. Scotland and Ireland have never defeated the All Blacks. And England last defeated them when Sir Clive Woodward was coach back in 2003.
My favourite songwriter, poet and philosopher, Leonard Cohen, has a great line in one of his songs: ‘Everything has a crack in it / That’s how the light gets in.’
This is my challenge to rugby supporters: look at the light shining on the Wallabies and the rugby game rather than at the cracks.
Supporters of the other football codes do this.
Are rugby league supporters still bitching about the fact that at the last World Cup, the New Zealand Kiwis pulled off a surprise victory in the final against the overwhelming favourites, the Australian Kangaroos?
And look at the supporters of the NSW Blues. Their team is finding it as hard to win a series against the Queensland Maroons, with seven successive lost series, as the Wallabies do against the All Blacks.
The Sunday Telegraph reported that the new coach Laurie Daley is full of optimism that the NSW ‘hunger for success’ will be met next season.
Next season rugby union supporters will have the pleasure of seeing the British and Irish Lions make their once every 12 years tour of Australia. The Lions are a throwback to the good old days of great tours and the excitement that these journeys into the unknown take fans.
Around 40,000 British and Irish supporters will follow their team. It will be a huge event here and in Europe.
I will make a fearless prediction that the Wallabies, steeled by the adversity of injuries this season and the monstrous battles against the All Blacks, will win this series.
And before this, we can enjoy a taste of the internationalism of rugby union with 36 international matches being played in Europe starting this Saturday with Oxford University playing Russia and finishing on December one with Wales playing Australia at the Millennium Stadium at Cardiff.
Rugby union might be struggling a bit in this country. But it should be remembered that over 50,000 supporters watched the Wallabies stop the All Blacks run of successive Test victories.
The Waratahs have a new coach in Michael Cheika who will get them them fit, physically and mentally and ready for a strong season in 2013.
Around the world, especially, rugby union is flourishing as the November/December fixture list involving all the major unions and teams like the Maori All Blacks and the French Barbarians suggests.
Supporters around the rugby world are going to enjoy this international spotlight on their great game. It’s time for the Wallaby supporters to do the same thing and let the light shine in on their team.
Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.
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