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SPIRO: Wallaby boys get monstered by Springboks men

The Springboks negative rugby hasn't won them any fans - or even the game this weekend. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
Expert
8th September, 2013
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8036 Reads

There was a brief moment or so, around the 56th minute of play, with the scoreline Springboks 19 – Wallabies 12, that the Brisbane hoodoo might just kick in against the visitors.

But the moment quickly passed. It was a rampantly physical and passionate Springboks side that kicked on to a 38-12 victory, a record result for them in Australia.

In retrospect, the writing was on the wall from the beginning of the Test.

The Wallabies started enterprisingly and got Israel Folau into play several times. But the Wallaby fullback was smashed and forced to concede turnovers as the massive Springboks forwards piled into the rucks and mauls.

This pattern was continued throughout the Test.

Time after time the Wallabies were over-powered in the collisions. Time after time the Springboks forced errors and penalties.

The visitors were too big, too physical, too powerful, too abrasive and just too good for the rattled Wallabies in all the collision areas in the Test.

You had the sense throughout the Test it was an unfair contest of men, and men with ferocity in their play, playing against boys who could not match their opponents in the brutal business of Test rugby of inflicting pain, hurt and points (why did the Wallabies turn down a shot at goal when within reach of the Springboks?) when the opportunities presented themselves.

To be fair to the Wallabies, the Springboks gave one of their most impressive performances in many years.

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The pack was tremendous in its power and skill. Francois Louw, the man of the match, over-shadowed Michael Hooper quite comprehensively.

And the backline now has genuine strike power with Bryan Habana, Willie Le Roux – who is a gifted, instinctive and devastating runner and playmaker – and the youngster JJ Engelbrecht, who is reviving memories of the great Springbok centres of the past like John Gainsford.

The New Zealand Rugby Union was smart enough to suss out the fact the Springboks in 2013 have the potential to become one of their great sides.

They have now won nine Tests on the trot. This sequence of wins will be put to the Test next weekend when they play the All Blacks at Eden Park.

The NZRU’s allocation of this venue to the All Blacks-Springboks Test highlights the nous in New Zealand rugby.

In the past several years, the Wallabies have been allocated Eden Park and the Springboks sent around New Zealand to other grounds.

Eden Park is the ultimate rugby fortress. The All Blacks were last defeated there in 1994 by a French side that scored one of the greatest tries in the history of Test rugby, ‘the try from the end of the world’, from almost their on try line to win the Test.

By forcing the Springboks to play at Eden Park, the NZRU is challenging them to live up to their promise of greatness.

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They are also giving the All Blacks, in terms of favourite grounds, the best venue to knock off the visitors.

In the after match commentary of the Brisbane Test, Phil Kearns went into a rant about the unfairness of the new scrum regulations.

He made the point that the hooking side was at a disadvantage because when the hooker struck for the ball the opposition could put on an eight-man scrum and dismantle the pack trying to clear the ball.

Kearns is a legendary Wallaby hooker, but he doesn’t seem to have a clue about the game, unfortunately.

In the IRB’s Charter on the Game, the principle is enunciated that an essential feature of the rugby game is ‘the contest for possession of the ball’.

This contest is what really distinguishes rugby union from rugby league. Except for the contest under the high ball, there is no contest for possession in league.

Some years ago the contest at the ruck, one of Benny Elias’ strengths, was removed. Players cannot gang up in the tackle and force a turnover. And the scrum is merely a way of starting play in favour of the side feeding the ball.

Rugby union is all about the contest for possession. You can force turnovers at rucks and mauls. You can gang-tackle opponents and force the ball from their grasp.

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And, please note this Phil, you can contest the lineouts and scrums.

Just as the feeding side in the scrum has to hook the ball and the halfback put the ball in straight, the thrower in a lineout has to throw in straight and one of his jumpers has to snaffle possession.

The point needs to be made to Phil Kearns, and the others who complain about the scrum laws, the Springboks won their scrums easily on their feed at Brisbane.

I have often made the point on The Roar that the commentary on rugby in Australia, especially from former Wallabies (with some honorable exceptions), is so uninformed and nationalistic that it harms rather than helps Australian teams to be successful.

We have had the nonsense about the scrums, in the past the nonsense about Richie McCaw and the so-called ‘cheating’ and last week more nonsense about the quality of the Wallaby backline being ‘the best in world rugby’ according to some experts.

This is so palpably wrong it hardly needs discussion. There is not one Wallaby who would displace a back from the Springboks or the All Blacks.

The hype all last week was about Quade Cooper and how he was going to revive the Wallaby backline into a try-scoring machine.

Right at the beginning of the game he gave away a careless penalty, coming back on side too slowly. The Springboks kicked for touch close to the Wallabies tryline and then bashed across for an early try.

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A few minutes later, he gave away another careless penalty.

There were a couple of deft passes and he did play in the line (and was bowled over for his troubles) but in general he was lacklustre in his play and ineffectual.

I wrote down in my note book during the second half: ‘If Quade Cooper is the answer, what is the question?’

The Wallaby pack is feisty and quick to grab jerseys and shape up into a fighting stance but they are not tough.

They are too easily knocked off the ball. Their scrumming is pathetic. They don’t make the big tackles. They don’t take the ball up with aggressive intent and purpose.

As I say, they play like boys rather than men.

My view in all this is the professional rugby players in Australia are too molly-coddled. They need less gym work and more training at cold camps, where their needs aren’t necessarily catered for on a five Star hotel basis.

I can’t understand why Rod Macqueen is not brought in to give advice to the ARU and Ewen McKenzie on how to get the best out of the players.

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Macqueen was a spectacularly successful Wallaby coach. He ranks with Graham Henry as the greatest coach of the professsional era.

Macqueen took over a Wallaby side at the end of 1997 which had had over 40 points scored against it in the second half by a rampant Springboks side. 13 players from that day of infamy for Australian rugby were in the squad that won the 1999 Rugby World Cup tournament.

Macqueen was a believer in and practitioner of tough love. He took his players to camps where they rode cycles to training, cooked their own food and did their own laundry.

The players were trained ferociously. At the first training sessions they vomited from their exertions. John Muggleton was brought in to give them master classes in tackling and defensive systems.

Macqueen himself was most inventive in thinking up new ways of doing things.

For instance, he once said to me he couldn’t understand why teams kicked off directly towards the designated opposition catchers. So he pioneered the notion of lining up his kick-off team across the field, so the kicker could go long/short and left/right.

Macqueen also was meticulous about the patterns of play he got his players to practice and practice and practice.

I am not calling for Macqueen to be the Wallaby coach. McKenzie has this job. But McKenzie needs more input from thinkers about the game.

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You look at the All Blacks, virtually since 1905 the selectors and then later the coaching panels have had at least one former All Black on board. Grant Fox is one of the selectors, currently.

Macqueen could play a Grant Fox-role as a selector and a mentor for some of the players and as a wise head to offer advice to McKenzie.

But this is for the future. The Wallabies are facing their worst year since 1958.

In January/February of 1958 they lost to Ireland, England, Scotland and France. Then in June/July they won one Test, drew one and lost a Test against the New Zealand Maori (given Test status by the ARU but not the NZRU).

In August/September they won a Test against New Zealand 6-3, with hooker Ron Meadows telling radio listeners “we beat the bastards”, but lost two other Tests.

What can be done in 2013?

The Test against the Pumas in Perth will not be an easy match. The Pumas’ scrum was very good against the All Blacks, after being uncharacteristically weak against the Springboks. So, somehow, in a week the Wallaby scrum has to be fixed.

The pack has to be tougher in the collisions and tackles.

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The backs have to discover a method of scoring tries. The Wallabies had a lot of play inside the Springboks’ 22 at Suncorp Stadium and didn’t ever look like scoring a try.

Are the coaching staff and the current squad up for these challenges?

Some playing careers in the Wallaby colours are on the line at Perth if the challenges can’t be met, you’d think.