The Wallabies leadership gap

Oliver Matthews Roar Guru

By , Oliver Matthews is a Roar Guru

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    There has been much written about the improvements within the Wallabies over the past couple of months. Despite only two wins in the Rugby Championship and the terrible showing from their Super Rugby teams, the recent performances do hint that things are on the right path.

    There’s plenty still to be done, for sure, but at least they’re on the right path. However, there is one big area that the Wallabies need to fix, and if they don’t, it will undermine any good work they do on the training paddock: leadership.

    In the past two years there have been a number of times when the Wallabies’ lack of strong and effective leadership has caused them real problems. To be clear this isn’t just about the captain on the day; leadership comes from a number of individuals within a rugby side, and the best teams at their peak had several players that you could point at who were key figureheads within their group.

    Furthermore, leadership doesn’t come from lots of shouting or motivational rants. There are plenty of players who have developed reputations as strong leaders purely down to their performance on the pitch and their ability to inspire those around them to do better.

    Thinking back to the winter of 2016, we saw the Wallabies go down three-nil to England at home. The consistent theme of that series was the lack of plan B from the home side. Of course the coach has to take some responsibility for that, but in the midst of battle, when you’re initial game plan is not getting the results it should, a good leader should be able to pivot and get their team trying something new. Moore was shown up in this series as being out of ideas and out of leaders around him to help deal with the situation.

    In 2017 we’ve seen some up and down performances from the Wallabies, but in general they’ve been getting better as the year has progressed – but, again, in the area of leadership the Wallabies have issues.

    In Mendoza this past weekend we saw Michael Hooper make poor decisions in the first half where, with the game tight and both sides fighting to take control, he dismissed easy three-point opportunities for the more glamorous try. This shows a real lack of understanding for how to win big against Argentina on this day.

    (Image: Paul Kane/Getty Images)

    The Pumas have had a terrible run of form, with no good performances in recent memory. Most of them have also been on the end of a Super Rugby season of being the whipping boys.

    On Sunday the Aussies needed to weather the first 30 minutes of Puma aggression, not concede any, or at least many, points and start getting the scoreboard ticking over. If they’d managed to get to 30 minutes or even half time with a nine-point lead, they would have been able to run over the home side in the second half and rack up a big win. Instead it was 13-all at half time with the Aussies missing out on easy points through bad captain decisions and poor execution.

    This ended up being a far closer game than it needed to be, and it demonstrates how far Hooper has to go when it comes to reading a situation.

    Looking at the rest of the side, Hooper and Michael Cheika are going to need other players to step up and lead as well. The pack is pretty youthful in key positions, which is exciting for the future, but Hooper needs more support. Will Genia is an obvious leader, but sometimes it feels as if he gets lost in the action of the game instead of having an eye on the broader context beyond just this next phase. Adam Coleman has definitely improved, but his best role is more as an enforcer and ensuring solid set pieces and he shouldn’t be distracted from them.

    In the backs you’d expect players like Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale to be senior enough to lead. Beale has been playing well for much of this championship, but again it feels like he is at his best when he’s playing in the moment. Perhaps he needs to step up and take on that leadership role a bit more in the future. It’s tough though when he’s so often dropped back in defence – it’s hard to lead when you’re backing away from the line.

    Interestingly, Moore might be able to add more value as an experienced head in training and a 20-minute man off the bench compared to being the starting hooker and captain.

    As the team head to Brisbane and then look to the cold north they will already have an idea about what is going to be a par set of results. Being on tour after a long Super Rugby season and a tough Rugby Championship is going to require the leaders within the camp to step up and really drive the squad forward.

    The success or failure of 2017 for the Wallabies is on the line over the next couple of months and the end result will come down a lot to whether the squad’s leaders can really improve.