How low can the Wallabies go?

Andy Thompson Roar Rookie

By , Andy Thompson is a Roar Rookie

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    Like many other Wallabies supporters, I did a fair bit of swearing at the television on Saturday afternoon.

    This isn’t an uncommon occurrence when I watch the men in gold play. In fact, you can probably say that after the last couple of years my swearing has developed into a finely crafted prose.

    My inventive yammerings aside, I was banished to the room with the spare TV on Saturday afternoon so I could swear and have my aneurysm in peace. That way my kids didn’t have to hear me yowl in protest at yet another poorly executed Will Genia kick.

    The Wallabies performance against Scotland on the weekend has resulted in a fair bit of wailing and gnashing of teeth on social media. For once, I didn’t join in. I wouldn’t say I was distraught. I certainly wasn’t angry. I was just disappointed. But in a way, I also knew this was going to happen.

    Watching the Wallabies play a great game occurs so rarely these days but I start each game with stirring optimism and a heart full of hope. More often than not, I’m surly and, probably, drunk by the end.

    What has become apparent is how the Wallabies, and Australian Super Rugby teams, fall apart throughout a game. As a Queensland Reds supporter, this feeling of morbid acceptance is my default setting but I’m not used to seeing my national team play like a bunch of blokes who just met in the changing room.

    “G’day mate. Welcome to the team. This is Bernard. He passes the ball. Sometimes he’ll pass it to where you’re running. Do you know how to do a chip kick?”

    I’ve noticed a distinct gulf in the skills department in both Australian Super Rugby teams and our national team. It’s a complete lack of the basics. Prove me wrong. Watch a replay from the weekend or from a Super Rugby game a few weeks ago.

    I’m not talking about a lack of insane offloading skills or fancy footwork, I’m talking about the ability to catch and pass to a man running at pace. As in a ball being passed from one player to the next that doesn’t result in the receiving player catching it behind him or slowing down to take it or dropping the ball stone cold.

    Now I’m hesitant to mention the All Blacks here because I do know there are a legion of All Black fans who, if given the chance, would delight in reminding you about the difference in the skill set between players from the two countries. But I watched the All Blacks play Samoa on Saturday night and, although the game was essentially a training run against a bunch of blue tackle bags, the skills of the players from one through to 23 are sublime.

    And these skills were also on display in the U20s final where the Kiwi team eviscerated the English. I saw the same basic skills. Nothing fancy. Just passing from man to man, running at pace. Why are Australian teams so bad at this lately?

    The Wallabies started to lift late in the game on Saturday afternoon. When Tevita Kurindrani attempted to pass the ball to Reece Hodge running at full speed with a gap looming on the wing, I had a glimmer of hope he’d put Hodgey through a gap on the wing.

    Nope.

    The ball went forward and rolled across the sidelines. Hodge did attempt to dive for the ball but only succeeded in driving his face into the dirt as the Scottish fans hooted in delight. I held onto my scream but I felt something pop deep inside my noggin. This wasn’t the only time something farcical happened during that game.

    Twice the ball came down from a lineout and, instead of neatly plopping into the waiting hands of Genia, the ball doinged off the head of a forward and bounced towards the Scots. Then we had that intercept try and a charge down of a Will Genia kick (cue internal scream) which also resulted in a try to the Scots.

    (Image. Tim Anger)

    Don’t get me started on our reliance on a small kick behind the line as our go-to attacking option. In the first half we were hot on attack about ten metres out and all Dane Haylett-Petty had to do was pass the ball through the hands and we would have scored a try or gone close.

    Did he do this? No. He grubbered a kick in and we all watched the ball roll dead. Why did Dane do this? Was he so unsure of his teammate’s ability to catch a ball and, heaven forbid, draw a man and pass the ball that he decided the only way forward was to go for the high-risk option. That’s what it felt like to me.

    With 20 minutes to go, I was resigned to the fact that we were going to lose the match. Australian teams have not only lost the ability to win a game at the death, they’ve lost the ability to even stay in the contest.

    Do I have an answer for this? In short, no. I’m involved in junior rugby (screaming from the sidelines is involvement, don’t judge me) and I see kids practicing passing and catching all night long at training. Do professional players stop doing the basics once they make a Super Rugby squad? Is this a coaching issue?

    It seems the Reds, Waratahs and Brumbies all seemed to have developed this malaise. The Reds are coached by a man whose only coaching skill seems to be “giving the boys a bloody good revving up in the sheds at half time” and the Brumbies are coached by possibly Australia’s most exciting player in the last 25 years who seems to have forgotten how to play the game.

    A Kiwi bloke coaches the Waratahs but it’s apparent he’s had that knowledge of rugby basics drilled out of him during his time at the club. Going on his lack of emotion as the Waratahs let yet another opposition player waltz through to score, possibly by some sort of electro-therapy that has numbed his facial muscles.

    Michael Cheika, Wallabies head coach stares in bemusement

    (AAP Image/ David Rowland)

    Michael Cheika is the coach of the Wallabies but I’m starting to think he’s more of a motivator than an actual coach. If I took a deep drink of my beer every time the camera pans to the coaches box and shows Cheika mouthing obscenities during a game, I’d be onto my third liver by this stage. We’re not privy to the instructions a coach gives his players but I sure as hell hope it isn’t “I want to see a silly kick for every third pass.” I’d like to give him more credit than that.

    This weekend, the Wallabies are playing Italy in Brisbane. Anything less than an absolute clinical drubbing will be a failure in my books. I don’t want a gritty, hard fought win. That will only paper over the cracks and give us all a false sense of security. I want to see my team play well by doing the basics. I also want the backs to be fitted with shock collars that zap them every time they even contemplate a stupid kick. Is that too much to ask?

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