In the first half hour of last night’s match, the Wallabies looked like they were playing a team that they knew nothing about. There was palpable sense of aimlessness bordering on confusion and a lack of resolve.
While not blessed with enormous talent and experience, I think that this Wallaby team could win if they just believed it. However, the extending string of losses has negatively affected attitudes, individually and collectively. The impact of these losses on this apparently fragile set of psyches is such they appear not to trust themselves, their teammates, the team (actually the composition of the team), the coaches or the game plan – assuming they had one.
To use a mountain climbing metaphor, it’s as if they know in advance that that people and equipment will fail – and the suspense of what and when is killing them.
What did we learn from this game?
Surely Burgess must go – off the bench completely (unless he shaves his head.) He can catch, tackle, kick, run with the ball, but he is a hopelessly slow-witted and poorly skilled scrum-half. His dithering and routinely anemic passing gifted the Bok defense with extra time to rush and time to regroup.
For the Wallabies, his slowness took the urgency out of regrouping and recycling and slowed everything down. The pace went up noticeably when Genia replaced him.
Genia displays a sense of urgency and real purpose – thinks quickly and passes crisply (mostly.) Genia isn’t perfect. However, at this point Genia’s mistakes can be excused as lack of experience and match time. By contrast Burgess has had plenty of match time. His specific mistakes come in addition to his overall drag on the pace of the game.
Giteau is a 12. It took Cooper a matter of minutes and 2-3 touches of the ball to show just how poorly Giteau is doing at 10 – and how much better he can do if relieved of the primary playmaker burden. It must be Barnes when he is fit and anyone but Giteau at 10 until that time. Cooper will do. The delay in making this decision has cost the Wallabies dearly in many ways.
Cross and Turner (late try notwithstanding) did not impress. Brown despite not being able to catch, was better but not by much – Pocock might be given a run at 8. Chisholm, straight back into the action easily did enough to keep his spot – he and Elsom did a very credible job at the lineouts until the inane long throws started. Horwill worked hard but had no obvious impact. Where is Kimlin?
How to get back the confidence?
First of all do something different. The same lame excuses about the same losing combination is rubbish. A good start will be to actually the team. It is one thing to look for stability in a lineup, entirely another to settle on a losing lineup and persist with it despite the evidence that it is never going to make it. At some point (many games back) it was becoming obvious that this wasn’t going to be the team to win now, let alone in 2011.
The supporters didn’t believe it then. Now it is so obvious that the players don’t believe it either. They know that the team that started yesterday will lose again next week.
So Robbie, for the sake of Australian rugby don’t start the same team!
Given what you’ve got my lineup would be:
6. Elsom (C)
20. Shepard (get someone with a presence – injured?)
22. Valentine (seriously – not Burgess)
The next real change to make is to find a captain that can lead. Someone who has no baggage as a losing captain.
Elsom can do it. He will have new gloves next week and will be ready.
Smith cannot lead or carry this team. Furthermore he really doesn’t appear to want to.
Ask him Robbie, would he rather play with a team that has hope and perhaps wins or be captain of a team that knows that nothing has changed – including the expected scoreline?
The time has come Robbie. Let’s move on. We want a real reason to watch next week.