A year is a long time in rugby
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England's Manusamoa Tuilagi, right, is tackled by Australia's Kurtley Beale during their international rugby union match at Twickenham stadium, London. (AP Photo/Tom Hevezi)
On another weekend free of any emotionally attached rugby, I finally got around to making some room on the various recorder hard-drives I use during the season.
It meant deleting some games I really don’t know why I kept this long, while some lucky ones were even converted to DVD.
One of those games to survive the cull was the England-Wallabies game at ‘Twickers’ last November.
In the context of the Spring Tour, the 20-14 win turned out to be the highlight of an otherwise lacklustre tour from the Wallabies.
An ordinary loss to France was followed by the win over England, and then two only-just wins over Italy and Wales.
If the various versions of events are to be believed, the ARU decided after this tour that Robbie Deans’ days in charge of the Wallabies were numbered.
Jake White maintains he was first contacted in February this year, and you’d have to assume the man in charge now, Ewen McKenzie, was first sounded out then, too.
Anyway, not being one to delay procrastination, I started watching the game again and two observations immediately struck me.
The first was, even 12 months on, that ‘regal purple’ alternate strip England wore on the day still looks horrendous. Even their ridiculous attempts at imitating the All Blacks remain more palatable.
The second was the two sides as they lined up on the day.
England (1-15): Joe Marler, Tom Youngs, Dan Cole, Tom Palmer, Geoff Parling, Tom Johnson, Chris Robshaw (c), Thomas Waldrom, Danny Care, Toby Flood, Charlie Sharples, Brad Barritt, Manusamoa Tuilagi, Chris Ashton, Alex Goode.
Replacements: David Paice, David Wilson, Mako Vunipola, Joe Launchbury, Tom Wood, Ben Youngs,
Owen Farrell, Mike Brown.
Australia: Benn Robinson, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Ben Alexander, Sitaleki Timani, Nathan Sharpe (c), Dave Dennis, Michael Hooper, Wycliff Palu, Nick Phipps, Kurtley Beale, Digby Ioane, Ben Tapuai, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Nick Cummins, Berrick Barnes.
Replacements: Stephen Moore, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Radike Samo, Liam Gill, Brett Sheehan, Mike Harris, Drew Mitchell.
Now admittedly, it’s a little harder to tell the makeup of the England side for this weekend just yet, given it’s their first outing with their first XV since Wales pumped them in the last round of the Six Nations this year.
However, it is notable England’s side against Australia 11 months ago included five players who couldn’t even make the squad for the end of year Internationals.
In fact, those same five players – Tom Palmer, Tom Johnson, Thomas Waldrom, Charlie Sharples, and David Paice – weren’t in the matchday squad against Wales, either.
From the Australian side last November, an extraordinary nine players from the starting side plus another five on the bench didn’t play ten days ago in Dunedin.
Of those 14 players, only Polota-Nau, Phipps, Cummins, Gill, and Harris (who sat unused on the bench in Dunedin) find themselves in London preparing to play this weekend.
The fact the Wallabies used nine players at Twickenham last year who won’t be there this year is an interesting point, too.
Is Australia’s rugby depth really that good that nine players (and a coach) could be lost to the Wallabies in less than a year, or is the turnover in playing numbers more indicative of a team still struggling to find its way on the international stage?
I don’t know the answer; I just find it interesting there’s so much difference in personnel.
What it does prove is a year certainly is a long time in rugby.
The Spring Tour last year had the Wallabies still playing that grinding, dour, defensive-based game that Deans had utilised for the Rugby World Cup in 2011, and would use again in the series loss to the British and Irish Lions in June.
Since then, the results haven’t necessarily changed, but the Wallabies have at least thrown off the shackles and are playing with a style more closely aligned to the methods Ewen McKenzie has spoken of wanting to employ.
Whether it’s getting closer to this mysterious and perhaps mythical ‘Australian way’ of playing rugby we keep hearing about remains to be seen.
The claims coming out of HQ of late, too, that a Grand Slam would be a massive shot in the arm for the game locally, are simultaneously worrying that such straws are being clutched at and the state of the game’s finances are so dire that such claims are actually true.
On that last part, I have to agree with a point made late last week by my ESPNscrum colleague, Greg Growden, that carrying on “repeatedly about how the cupboard is bare … does nothing to attract sponsors or public support.”
With all this said, and not unlike the first Ashes Test in Brisbane in little over three weeks, this first Test of the tour is crucial for the overall result of the spring series.
Win it, and the Wallabies could easily carry through the tour undefeated. With due respect to Six Nations champions Wales, England still look the strongest side the Wallabies will face this tour.
Lose to England though, and we’ll once again be wondering where and if the next win will come.
And that’s precisely the same situation Wallabies supporters were in heading into the Twickenham Test last year.
The rugby title with no silverware up for grabs
Let’s immediately poo-poo the idea the All Blacks are playing Japan this weekend for no other reason than money.
There’s a major rugby title up for grabs in Tokyo on Saturday.
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of the Raeburn Shield, it’s a mythical trophy won by beating the current holders, which traces its origin back to the very first international rugby match, won by Scotland over England in a match played at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh in 1871.
The current holders, believe it or not, are Japan.
The Brave Blossoms won the Shield by virtue of beating the touring Welsh in June, and since defended against Canada and the United States.
They face their biggest defence yet – minus their convalescing coach Eddie Jones – in the All Blacks, who unsurprisingly possess the best record in Raeburn Shield history.
What is surprising, perhaps, is that of all the major titles the All Blacks hold currently, this was one that had slipped their grasp in the last 12 months.
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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