There have been a lot of abstract suggestions as to why the Wallabies are so far off the pace this year – culture, depth and confidence being some of the more popular reasons.
But one technical aspect that hasn’t been mentioned much is that the Wallabies are just poor cheaters.
Compared to the All Blacks, the Wallabies are horrible cheaters.
If it were with someone’s wife, the Wallabies would be caught red handed tripping over their underwear getting undressed, while the All Blacks would have already have performed the horizontal Haka and gone home to eat Puha and pork bone.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not being sarcastic here.
I’m not one of these people that constantly bombards comment forums with Richie McCaw cheating claims. Quite the opposite in fact, I am a New Zealander who knows that the All Blacks cheat, except I like to call it “playing winning rugby.”
The whole cheating argument is quite amusing. Coaches know it, players know it.
Rugby is one of the most complex sports in the world controlled by a fatiguing and often unsighted referee. If cheating is not a part of your game plan then you obviously don’t like winning.
The All Blacks do it very well and they have propagated a media perception that they do not which allows them to get away with it.
When Steve Hansen comes out and says that Richie McCaw is the best player in the world, he is furthering an underlying ethos that New Zealand players know more about the ruck than the ref does.
When the All Blacks win, which they do 76% of the time, the stereotype is strengthened and the refs get more unsure about penalising them. It is no coincidence that New Zealand have been a much more consistent team since Richie was taught how to manage a ref.
But along with the psychological manipulation, the All Blacks are also the best technical cheats. In the last Australia, New Zealand game, Australia had 186 rucks and/or mauls while New Zealand had 184.
Now while I have no stats on this, I’m willing to bet that the release time from the ruck or maul was much longer for the Wallabies than it was for the All Blacks.
This is because, right across the park, the All Blacks are much more astute at slowing the ball.
Whether through illegal tactics like falling on the tackled player in the tackle or “accidentally” backing through the ruck or legal tactics like pilfering or counter rucking, there is a high premium placed on those extra seconds taken to get defenders into position.
It is no wonder Will Genia went into a form slump after playing New Zealand.
His options were severely restricted by a defensive wall easily reset by delayed rucks.
So how do Australia become better cheats?
Number one is by moving on from Michael Hooper.
Great player, fast and a good ball pilferer but the game plan has moved on from pilfering.
Take a look at the teams who are beating Australia.
New Zealand – McCaw height 187cms, 106kg, South Africa – Francois Louw – 188cms and 112kgs, Hooper – 182cms and 97kgs.
Winning the ruck collision at the moment consists of out-muscling the other team and slowing the ball. Hooper simply doesn’t have enough bulk to be effective there.
And if you want another example on how the game has moved on from Hooper’s skill set – consider Heinrich Brüssow, considered by many a better scavenger than McCaw, and yet astoundingly cast aside by Heyneke Meyer because he was too small.
In fact the only reason McCaw has been able to stay in the All Blacks is because he has been able to transform his game into a more physical one.
Number two is getting Scott Higginbotham back into the team. Not only does he have the size and strength to boss a ruck, he also has the propensity to cheat and the audacity to blatantly get away with it.
Number three is getting the whole team to buy into cheating, or at least being better ruck players. Your defensive line is based on your ruck coordination. defence builds pressure and pressure opens gaps in the opposition.
Sort out your cheating like other teams have and you’ll start doing better.