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Wallabies must work harder to be number one again

The Wallabies were brought back down to earth by Scotland (AAP Image/Paul Miller)
Roar Guru
25th June, 2012
236

A recent discussion here on The Roar has got me thinking. A fellow Roarer noted that prior to the 1978 Cornelsen Test, Australia didn’t have a great rugby history against New Zealand.

This is perhaps a little unfair, as Australia has had some bright periods against New Zealand, but there’s also some truth to it. Australia didn’t hold the Bledisloe Cup from 1949 to 1979 – that’s 30 years without a series win against New Zealand.

I strongly suggest people watch the rugby documentary ‘The Rise and Rise of Australian Rugby’, which fantastically documents the struggles Australia had to go through to become the world’s best rugby team in 1991.

The documentary touches upon the disastrous 1972 Bledisloe Cup series, which I suppose is Australian rugby’s equivalent to Bill Lawry’s 1969 Test side that toured South Africa and lost 4-0.

It then notes the lowest point in Australian rugby history – a loss to Tonga.

It touches upon the debut of Ray Price in 1974, and the drawn Test that year against New Zealand, which was a surprise to many.

It then moves on to discuss the 1975 series against England, where the Dave Brockhoff Wallabies debuted their step-forward approach.

It then moved on to the violent 1978 Welsh tour, and how Australia beat the best side in the Northern Hemisphere even away from home.

It touches upon the impact the influx of the 1977/78 Schoolboys had on the Wallabies – Ella, Hawker, O’Connor, Roche, etc.

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Australia had to really struggle to become a world power in rugby, which it did under the fabulous coaching of the legendary Alan Jones in 1984.

But now that Australia’s been one of the world’s best sides from 1984-2004, are we beginning to get too comfortable?

The Wallabies last held the Bledisloe Cup in 2002. It’s nearly been a decade since Australia won the Bledisloe Cup.

There was a loss to Tonga in 1973, but there was a loss to Samoa in 2011. And while Samoa are a much better side than people give them credit for, that was a loss the Wallabies should never have had.

Scotland should never have beaten Australia in 1982, but they had more of a right to win than the Scotland that beat Australia on the failed 2009 Grand Slam tour. Australia have now lost to Scotland twice in the last four years. A few years ago this would have been unthinkable.

Ireland ruined the Grand Slam in 2009 with a last-gasp O’Driscoll try, and Australia lost to them in the early stages of the 2011 World Cup.

What’s concerning to me is that Australians are starting to accept this.

Some of the excuses I’m hearing are unacceptable, such as, ‘We’re still the second best side in the world.’ The second best side in the world didn’t look too convincing against Wales.

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What’s especially been disheartening to me as a Wallabies fan is that I can’t see Australia winning the Bledisloe Cup back this year, based off the Welsh performances.

I started this article talking about how the Wallabies went 30 years without the Bledisloe. But, this was before the Bledisloe Cup became an annual tournament in 1982. Australia and New Zealand have played each other almost as many times in the last 10 years, and yet there’s still no Bledisloe Cup.

There was a 10-Test losing streak that should never have been allowed to happen. In five of those Tests Australia were leading at half time. The 10-streak Wallabies were the inverse of the big match Wallaby side of 1998-2003.

There’s a lethargy I’m sensing from Wallaby fans, that Australia’s still a great rugby nation and being the world’s second best side is good enough. No, it’s not!

I really dislike it when people say that Australia hasn’t got the cattle. Something I always liked about Alan Jones was he never saw problems with the talent, he saw the problems are with the teacher. In that sense he’s like Michel Thomas of rugby.

It was refreshing to read Jones’ article a few weeks ago about how Australia has the talent to win. Why don’t we all have that attitude?

We’re not appreciating the fact that we’re starting to accept defeat to the All Blacks. Someone said to me, ‘Oh we never used to beat New Zealand, the last two decades were just a bit of an exception.’

Something I used to love about the Wallabies, and Australian sport in general, is Australia always thought it could beat anybody. I’m sure other countries found it arrogant, but I loved that Australia never accepted mediocrity.

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The Wallabies of 1998-2003 were big match performers in every sense of the world. How did Australia win the following games?

• 1999 World Cup semi-final (Larkham’s drop-goal)
• 2000 Wellington Test (Eales’ winning penalty)
• 2000 Cape Town Test (Mortlock’s penalty)
• 2001 Lions series (6-11 down in the second Test, they win the series)
• 2001 Sydney Test (Kefu’s famous try)
• 2002 Sydney Test (Matt Burke scored the winning penalty)
• 2003 World Cup semi-final (Mortlock’s intercept)

I’d even say Australia were huge in the World Cup Final, so much so that I thought in the 78th minute that Australia would win the Test! They had a line-out and I expected them to steal another game.

Australia had no right to win the 2003 World Cup. England were far superior. And while people love talking about the reffing of the scrums, I still think Australia lifted and sent a Test into overtime that they didn’t deserve to win.

Do people remember when Australia were beaten in 2003 by New Zealand and the headlines ran: ‘We can’t win the World Cup.’ Nobody expected Australia to win, yet their forwards played all over the All Blacks.

Australia doesn’t have that aura anymore. In hindsight, the 2006 Brisbane Test was the last time an underdog Wallabies side went up against a much, much better side, and gave New Zealanders a fright.

I knew New Zealanders who, after that Test, talked about having flashbacks to all those close Tests New Zealand used to lose from 2000-2003, when they should have won.

Nick Farr-Jones said it in 2005: other countries no longer fear us. We lost that aura of a great champion side.

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I worry that 2012 will just be another example of Australia losing to New Zealand, and hearing the same old excuses about not having the cattle, about how Australia is still the second best side in the world, so it’s okay, etc.

What happened to the arrogant Australians who thought they should win every Test?

When people say, ‘It’s okay Australia are the second best side in the world’, that is what’s wrong with Australian rugby.

As far as I’m concerned, Australian rugby needs to take a good hard look at itself. We’re fooling ourselves if we think we can win the Bledisloe Cup playing the rugby we played against the Welsh. Things are worse than people want to realise.

And I got to say it: Robbie Deans is the most immune rugby coach I have ever seen. If Eddie Jones had his record (which he doesn’t, he has a better record than Deans), he’d have been dumped long ago.

Australian rugby took account of itself in the mid 70’s, realized it needed to do some extra work, and clawed its way to the top, inch by inch, until it got there in 1991.

Australia needs to do the same thing again. But instead we seem stuck in this funk, telling ourselves we’re still number two, which is pernicious.

During many instances where Australia were number two, any team from tenth to third in the world was capable of beating us. Australians told themselves they were number two, and then they lost to a horrible English side at the 2007 World Cup.

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The Robbie Deans Wallabies are really quite a drop from the 1984-1986 Wallabies, the 1991-1993 Wallabies, and the 1999-2001 Wallabies.

We need to start asking ourselves why we’re not number one, and then throw everything into getting there.

The current Wallabies owe it to the Tony Shaw’s, the Mark Loane’s, the Paul McLean’s, to make sure all that hard work the Wallabies in the past did to make the Wallabies the world’s best side continues.

To any Wallabies reading this, you’ve got until August to light a fire under yourselves.