It is often said that Australian rugby fans cannot stand losing, especially to New Zealand sides. This was true, to an extent, but only really for a brief period in the early 2000s.
Something struck me while watching the Brumbies go down to the Rebels in an utterly dire game: since then, Australian fans have simply got tired with the lack of basic skills, vision, creativity and consistency displayed by all of our teams.
How do the Brumbies go from the second half against the Reds to their match against the Rebels in one week?
Why would Aidan Toua – after finally running the ball and having a fantastic match, rather than kicking it and having an average one – return to his horrible kicking game?
Why would the Brumbies adopt a conservative game plan in perfect conditions against one of the worst teams in the competition?
These questions are just some of the many baffling questions that have plagued Australian rugby for the last ten years.
We may just as well ask why Robbie Deans moved away from the attacking, skilful gameplan that had served him fabulously in 2010 and to a conservative one in 2011?
Why would he continue to select Quade Cooper at fly-half despite adopting a conservative gameplan?
Why has Michael Cheika consistently dropped form players for out of form ones? And I am not just talking about Waratahs, players like Stephen Moore – and others – were kept around in 2016 despite a run of diabolical form.
Why does Cheika think that the ‘Australian way’ of playing rugby means a one-dimensional strategy of always running the ball regardless of the situation? Has he never watched the great teams of the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s?
The Wallabies currently have a number of supremely talented and powerful backs, but again and again we see them lacking in basic game awareness, catching, passing and kicking skills.
The only current players who consistently offer support when we make a line break are Michael Hooper, George Smith, Dane Haylett-Petty and Bernard Foley. Even when players are supported when they make line-breaks, the player who makes the break too often fails to get away, or even look for, the final pass.
There was a situation in the Brumbies-Rebels match on the weekend in which Wharenui Hawera made a line break, his support players were a little slow to react, but even when they eventually did support him, he failed to look to get away the pass.
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Possessing game awareness and the ability to play what is in front of you is grossly underrated by Australians, and vastly more important than simply being a good athlete. This is the reason I would take a Ben Smith, Isreal Dagg, Karmichael Hunt or Haylett-Petty over Isreal Folau any day.
Despite being a fantastic athlete, Folau has one mode: to run hard and avoid getting tackled at all costs. Too often he runs too far and isolates himself, turning over the ball, or goes for a stupid miracle offload and knocks it on rather than simply taking the tackle. Bismarck du Plessis has, on multiple occasions, given Folau nightmares by isolating him and then turning over the ball.
The Wallabies side that lost to England in the 2007 World Cup had the following players:
1. Matt Dunning
2. Stephen Moore
3. Guy Shepherdson
4. Dan Vickerman
5. Nathan Sharpe
6. Rocky Elsom
7. George Smith
8. Wycliff Palu
9. George Gregan
10. Berrick Barnes
11. Lote Tuqiri
12. Matt Giteau
13. Stirling Mortlock
14. Adam Ashley-Cooper
15. Chris Latham
It also had an injured Stephen Larkham watching from the sideline.
How can Australian rugby have gone so far backwards? Obviously, the answer is at least partially that other teams have improved. England, Ireland and Scotland are out of sight compared to 2007.
But that doesn’t explain the decline of the current crop of Australians relative to those of ten years ago. How many of the current Australian players would make this team? Will Genia over 2007 George Gregan is maybe the only one.
This is not to say it is all doom and gloom.
There are extremely talented players in the sea of mediocrity that is the Australian Super Rugby conference. These players could win us a Bledisloe in the next couple of years, or at least get a win over England.
The issue is that we have had false starts before. I would have said in 2010 that the Wallabies would win a Bledisloe in the coming three years. Unfortuntaely, they preceded to have a horror show at the 2011 World Cup and then fall apart.
The 2011 Reds were another false start. As were the 2014 Waratahs. Likewise, the team was improving under Ewen McKenzie, then collapsed again.
After the 2015 World Cup, we had a decent chance of winning the Bledisloe, and then we all saw how 2016 panned out.
As Australian rugby fans, we need to stop the state bickering and demand more of our administrative and coaching structures nationally.
No longer can we allow the old boys to promote each other or hire incompetent coaches. Neither can we give Cheika a free pass in playing an awful style of rugby or selecting undeserved players.
Until we unite with a clear vision of what we want Australian rugby to become, we will continue languishing in a sea of dropped balls, tackles gone missing, and passes and kicks that go unexecuted.
We need to demand that we play a running, but dynamic and varied style of rugby. We don’t need to become the All Blacks, simply getting back to 2007 Wallabies would be enough.