The Roar
The Roar

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Wallabies: fifteen players, but not a team

Roar Pro
20th July, 2009
24
1044 Reads

Roarers have collectively analyzed, and variously moaned about and defended almost every aspect of the Wallabies’ recent games – the one played last week and all recent vintage. I say almost every aspect because we have overlooked one – I’ll argue the most important one.

No Wallaby side in recent memory has really played like a real fair dinkum team.

Wrong you say? I don’t think so.

Yes they have won some tests and on occasion looked the goods. However, can you really point to any evidence that this collection of players – some great, some good, some indifferent, really appear to care about each other in a way that translates into cohesive and purposeful behavior and a sense of collective honor and pride?

Having all the best players does not make a great team – often just the opposite.

Great teams do not need to have all the best players – occasionally they have none. The Waratahs prove the former year after year. The early Brumbies proved the latter.

In recent years the only obvious things in common to the 15 Wallabies on the pitch were the color of the shirt and the direction they were facing.

I will leave it to someone else to run the ruler across the greatest teams Australia has produced to support or offer rebuttal on my contention. Note that I am not arguing that only those with winning records were great teams. I am referring to those that stood up and represented Australia well, earned the respect of everyone,and made us proud.

In recent years, win or lose, I have not found Wallaby rugby to be really satisfying. Even on good days it was always rather like the light beer commercials ‘tastes great – but (inevitably) less filling.’

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The lack of a true team phenomenon translates into many of the current side’s pathologies – lack of commitment, lack of concentration, inability to finish off an opponent, inability to dig deep and come from behind with conviction.

Perhaps the most compelling proof of just how big a problem this is can be seen in the almost obsessive spotlight on the triumphs and failures of individuals.

Rugby at its best is a team game. That is when it is most satisfying to play and when it is most enjoyable to watch.

Not surprisingly this accounts for why we most often find matches decided by kicks to be rather devoid of real substance. We want to see rugby played by a team. We know the difference.

All of us have watched grossly over matched teams play with a true team spirit, a band of brothers, to the bitter end and come away with their heads held up, proud in the knowledge that as a team they may have been outpointed but they were certainly not defeated.

In another thread one of you noted that Mortlock was nowhere to be seen when the Baxter was being penalized over the weekend. Clearly nothing he could do about the penalty – but what about the team?

Yes, we see a fair amount of ‘teamlike’ celebratory milling around when a try is scored. It dates me, but in my school days that would have got us a dressing down later – win or lose. It was always a team try and in the end a team win or loss. If a teammate was having a bad day we all worked on the problem – with two subs for injury only, there was no choice. We were on the mountain roped together for better or worse.

Today we have lost something. The talk is about someone losing the game by missing a tackle, a pass, a kick at goal.

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What happened to the team?

The Wallabies as a team didn’t lose last weekend. It was a loss by a collection of 15+ players who showed up in the same kit for a match.

When they had the ball they showed some basic social skills such as sharing the ball and agreeing to meet in small groups. They also seemed willing to try to get it back from the group in the other shirts when they didn’t have it. As long as they didn’t have to commit too very much it was great – and they got a nice shirt.

What was conspicuously absent on Saturday was a palpable sense that they were all in something together for better or worse.

This has nothing to do with individual anything, so comments about lacking mongrel or killer instinct miss the target set up here. I also don’t see this as having much to do with professionalism (professionalism, pride and commitment aren’t mutually exclusive, or with the charisma of captaincy – yes, Mortlock is devoid of it, but even McCaw would have trouble with this bunch.

So, what is missing? where did it go? Can we get it back?