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Wallabies must improve four key area's

Roar Guru
5th August, 2010
11

Last Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup game between the All Blacks and Wallabies was a huge disappointment for Australian rugby supporters.

A disappointment because once again we thought we were perhaps over the hill (could be a mountain actually) of thinking we could perform consistently at a high level, but once again we find ourselves on the slippery slope of following a good win with a poor performance.

Before I continue, I will give the obligatory congratulations to the All Blacks. They played very well and deserved the win.

I will say that if they play the way they did last night they are beatable. However, for this to occur the Wallabies need to understand a few home truths and lift their execution standards.

In the first half when the game was won and lost the All Blacks scored four well taken tries. Credit to them. When analyzing this game the Wallabies cannot ignore that three of these tries were scored directly after simple errors of their own. These being a missed lineout throw, two missed tackles, and a charge down.

Only Mils Muliaina’s try could be considered as having it’s origins solely within the All Blacks creative attacking ability. All the others could be considered preventable. Additionally, even Muliaina’s try could be considered to have some element of luck to it. I wouldn’t bet on Cory Jane executing that extremely difficult kick and getting it to bounce nicely for Mils like that every time.

However, this probably sums up the difference between the sides. When the All Blacks have a sniff they pick an option, focus and execute it precisely, and they do it all immediately without hesitation. This combination tends to make any luck fall your way more often then not.

The Wallabies on the other hand couldn’t seem to execute a high standard for more then a few minutes at a time with passes being dropped under minimal pressure, and penalty kicks not going out. When opportunities arose they seemed to either have no plan on how they were going to make a break or finish the try, and when they had a plan, not considered precisely what had to happen for the plan to work.

If I were Robbie Deans this week I would concentrate on making the following four points

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1. Kicking is not a dirty word. Tactical kicking has been a crucial part of the international game for over a hundred years, and one little tweak to the ruck laws is not going to remove the benefit/need to vary your tactics and strategy by employing tactical kicking.

I’m of course not talking about midfield bombing or kicking long down the middle, but kicking for touch and territory, ideally having the ball cross touch five metres out would allow you to transfer pressure to the opposition for a period. This shouldn’t be the only play available, running should always be used when available, but you do need to mix things up and not become predictable.

Genia made one tactical kick for the team in the second half, and low and behold we are in their 22 putting pressure on them, and shortly after have ourselves a try.

2. Don’t wait for them to play when defending. Defenders must make the play when defending (particularly close to the ruck but also in general), you have to try and be the one who dictates how and where the tackle is made. This means being on your toes and getting up off your line as soon as someone picks the ball up from the ruck.

Players close to the ruck should be like a coiled spring that is just waiting to be released by the opposition taking up the ball (see chariots of fire for more info on the coiled spring technique). There was a brief period midway through the first half when the All Blacks were attacking in Australia’s half, and we actually made an effort, got off our line and forced them back.

Apologies to Genia, but his two efforts on Cory Jane and Joe Rococoko which failed to stop tries demonstrated the further application of the principle. The first time he stood up and tried to jersey grab Jane and was pushed off easily. He was so close to the touch line and Jane had such high body height that it was the perfect opportunity to hammer him over the line, but he hesitated to see what Jane was going to do first and allowed the attacker the chance to make the play.

The second time he waited too long to slide onto Rococoko which gave him momentum. If he’d gone earlier he would have been running to tackle in front, and Rococoko wouldn’t have had enough momentum to pull through and reach out to the line.

Again, hesitance and waiting to see precisely what the attacking team will do before reacting. He should have known that they’d be looking to give it to a free winger, and as soon as he saw or heard that the man inside him was covered he should have been right up at the winger.

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You could give him a little grace as he was defending on the wing without a winger for both of these occasions, but the general attitude doesn’t change no matter where you are defending. Someone will dictate the play, so you have to make sure that in defence you are the one to do it. Just look how the All Blacks did it to us and their attack followed on from that.

3. Execution, execution, execution. These gentlemen are paid professionals, and from what they presented on the weekend they should have a good hard look at themselves as to whether they deserve to be paid.

Everyone makes mistakes but these are the best players in the country, and are paid to practice all day every day (or near enough), and the standards are not high enough.

Mix ups in backline moves, losing your own lineouts and not being able to catch the ball from kickoffs are obvious areas of poor execution that were highlighted by the Fox commentators, but I draw attention to the fact there are too many passes going to the wrong part of the player. By this I mean a player has to slow or pause to catch the ball. Passing in front of the man and near his hands is so basic but it is yet another area where the All Blacks showed us up.

Focus and concentration is needed for every activity a player performs in a game, and these continual even slightly poor passes show the lack of attention to detail that permeated the entire team.

It’s not good enough that you perform 70, 80 or even 90 per cent of tasks to a reasonable standard. You should maintain concentration and be performing your tasks to an impeccable standard almost 100 per cent of the time. For example, if you make a kick through, concentrate and make sure it goes to a place that will be advantageous for your side.

A significant part of it comes from having an aim in the first place, and not just kicking it long out of habit. Difficult yes, impossible no. They are supposedly the best so aim for the best standard.

I hate to say it, but the All Blacks kicks almost always seem to end up in a good spot for them, this is not luck. If you do all this and the opposition still outplays you (such as in Muliaina’s first try) then fair play to them and get up and back into it. The trick is to maintain a high pace and intensity to your play while still executing (it still has to be fast of course), but this is why they practice so much, to make it instinct.

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Don’t hesitate, don’t screw up, just do it (good on you Nike). We are clearly not at that instinctive point yet, and the All Blacks clearly are.

3. Lifting intensity in attack means more then running hard. The days are gone when simply charging one off the ruck is going to have much impact. If a team is moving up aggressively and executes the tackle you are just a target, and you will be behind the advantage line.

The Wallabies have a habit of when they need to lift they constantly give it to one of their big forwards to pump up and do a mighty one off charge. This is very admirable and courageous, but winning rugby needs both brains and heart. This tactic, like most attack, will have little impact if done from slow ball. Maybe they are trying to realign the play or suck in defenders, but to get quick ball with your backline on the front foot from the ensuing ruck you need to be going reasonably well forward at the end of the tackle, and to do this you can’t just run straight at the group of forwards.

Some level of deception is required from slow ball. I would suggest pass two wide and have a second rower running straight at the outside backs, ideally with some support. At the least it would drag some forwards away from the ruck. If not that then at least try to put some kind of a play on, and then execute it perfectly (yes perfectly, every time) and see if it works out.

When you do get it, run bloody hard with eyes open and the ball in two hands.

It’s hard to be over critical of the Wallabies.

The fact that two of our three tries had fair elements of luck to them makes you shudder to think what a fair scoreline would have been. We can’t be counting on charge downs and bounce passes to provide us with game winning amounts of points going forward (thank you Julia).

The Wallabies need to realise that they are getting paid big time money and they therefore need to start putting in big time performances. Being very good just isn’t good enough at this level.

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They are the elite of Australian rugby talent and the time is long overdue when they get their heads in check and start thinking like the elite professional sportsmen they claim to be.

The bar of acceptability needs to be set much higher for pretty much everyone involved. This does not mean going into your shell though. High-risk tactics still need to be employed to break down international defences, but at this level even these high risk plays should be executed without error.

That’s what being elite is all about.