In the wake of yet another depressing Bledisloe Cup campaign, the cheers from across the Tasman are heard and well deserved.
New Zealand was the better side over the two matches played thus far.
For Robbie Deans’ Wallabies, the New Zealand question remains answered in the negative, however the question of ARU support for Deans appears to remain in the positive.
This is the status quo and a recipe for ongoing Bledisloe defeat and disillusionment of the Australian rugby public. It is well documented that New Zealand has retained the Bledisloe Cup for a period of ten years.
In that time the All Blacks have seen three coaches: John Mitchell, Sir Graham Henry and incumbent Steve Hansen.
They have won Tri-Nations tournaments and the 2011 Rugby World Cup during that period, and the quality of their rugby has been a benchmark for those who play the game. If you track it from 2003 to 2012 it would hard to argue that the value in the All Black share has tracked north in that time. It is indeed blue chip.
The Wallabies too have had three coaches in the past decade: Eddie Jones, John Connolly and Robbie Deans. In that time Australia has had some success, with a famous 2011 Tri-Nations victory; sustained success over South Africa in the past 18 months; and recently a solid home series defeat of European champions Wales. However, they simply can’t compete against New Zealand for sustained periods.
This has been the hallmark of the Robbie Deans era. If you track Australian rugby from 2003 to 2012 I would argue we have not really gone anywhere.
While I acknowledge Deans’ one-off victories against New Zealand, and his Tri-Nations victory, the simple fact remains he was brought in by the ARU to win us a Rugby World Cup and the Bledisloe Cup. Two distinct failures which Australia looks further away from after the performance of the Wallabies in the past several weeks.
Unlike his predecessors Jones and Connolly, who collectively had five years at the helm, Deans has had five years alone, yet his support from the ARU remains staunch. I am unsure as to why as Deans himself does not appear have improved along the way.
A key weakness is in selections. In 2003 Robbie Deans was the backs coach of the All Blacks. In the 2003 Rugby World Cup Deans selected Carlos Spencer, moved Mils Muliana to outside centre and allowed Leon McDonald to full back. Deans failed to select Andrew Merhtens, Tana Umunga and Christian Cullen. The rest is history – ask any New Zealander.
In 2011 Deans failed to select a genuine backup for David Pocock at openside flanker. Foolishly Deans trusted some schoolboy experience Ben McCalman had in the 7 jumper as adequate for a Rugby World Cup campaign. Logic I can’t get my head around considering both Matt Hodgson and Beau Robinson has very good seasons for their respective provinces.
Deans has long espoused a ‘reward for effort’ selection policy. I find it awfully hard to justify the continued selections of players who fail to perform at state and Test level. Benn Robinson, Rob Horne, Drew Mitchell and Kurtley Beale were four names in last night’s Eden Park disaster whose domestic form was not in the same class as Greg Holmes, Nick Cummins, Dom Shipperley and Bernard Foley’s. What message must this send to those outside? Where is the reward for effort and why is poor effort rewarded?
Robbie Deans also stated that Quade Cooper had not played enough rugby one week, yet Drew Mitchell who had actually played less was ready for rugby? Contradiction equals confusion. Both Mitchell and Beale were unfit for Test rugby and their subsequent performances and match results are no great shock.
Then there’s Deans’ game plan. I am sure there has to be one. But there is an inconsistency in executing it; inability to sustain pressure on the All Blacks and convert that pressure into points. Under Deans, Australia has had a love affair with the width game, much to the detriment of the direct game.
Too often have we seen Australian backs plucked off behind the advantage line, adding pressure onto the Wallabies. Too often do we see the Australian fly half under enormous pressure from very good and very legal All Black line speed. Yet as predictable as the next sunrise the 10 is spoon-fed the ball.
Where is the variation, like a blindside move or a back row move that can turn line speed for an open side defensive line into a negative by getting in behind it? Australia in attack continually plays into the All Blacks defensive pattern and we never adapt. Why?
What about tactics? Last night Berrick Barnes has well positioned for a drop goal when the game was still in the balance yet he chose to hook-kick to a blind winger who was not there. Why? In general play our backs are gun shy and will not take on the line, instead opting to chip kick, why?
Our forwards, especially Higginbotham, Moore and Alexander run too high with the ball, allowing themselves to be held up or for a slow recycle of possession. Our mauling was poor and the only time it was used it broke up and Keiran Read stole possession. We do not hit the collision line in force, nor drive past the ball or counter-ruck with any real vigour. Our missed tackle rate is too high. We lack the ball-carrying, passing and tackling skills to ever truly threaten the All Blacks.
Our attitude is all too inconsistent. It was a given that Australia would turn up. We might not win but we would never give in. To see Richie McCaw mouth the words about 10 minutes before half time “We are this close to snapping them” clearly indicates the mental fragility of the team. After 30 minutes of Test rugby we’re done.
These are not just examples from last night, but problems that have continued to haunt the Wallabies under the Deans tenure. I am unsure how after five years of Bledisloe failure the ARU can continue to support Robbie Deans as coach of the Wallabies.
What is even more evident is that our competitors for Rugby World Cup 2015 have all renewed their head coaching stocks to allow them time to develop their style when their respective squads. New Zealand have ushered in the Hansen era, South Africa have brought in Meyer, and both England and France are under new management.
Yet we are evidently stuck in the mud with a team that finds it hard to score tries, lacks some basic skill and creativity, is mentally fragile, contradictory in its selections and unable to execute a game plan.
I don’t know Robbie Deans and I am sure he is a good rugby man, however for the betterment for Australian rugby the Australian Rugby Union should stop rewarding failure by its blanket protection of Deans. Start rebuilding the Wallabies and reconnecting with the Australian rugby public. We simply can’t afford to slip into another ‘Woeful Wallbies’ era.