Rugby World Cup tales of the future past

sheek Roar Guru

By sheek, sheek is a Roar Guru

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    The past can tell us a lot about the future for those can be bothered to study the deeds of other days. As the saying goes, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana).

    Almost everyone is trying to come up with some prescient reason why a particular country will win the Rugby World Cup, and why.

    Such predictions are fraught with danger since it is really impossible this far out to predict with any certainty how things will pan out.

    But the past can give us the clues, morsels of insight which we must decipher correctly in the present time. Here are some potential clues that I remember involving just the Wallabies and All Blacks.

    1991 Bledisloe Cups
    The All Blacks surprisingly lost to the Wallabies 12-21 in Sydney, then scraped home 6-3 in the muck of Auckland. Coach Alex Wyllie heaved a huge sigh of relief from the win, but appeared insufficiently motivated to learn any lessons from it.

    The Sydney result was viewed as a ‘blip’ and the good ship New Zealand would continue on its intended course. The Wallabies, on the other hand, were furious to have let a game go they expected to win. They studied and learnt their lessons.

    In the World Cup semi-final, the Wallabies shut out the All Blacks 16-6.

    1994 Bledisloe Cup (Gregan’s tackle Test)
    It is necessary to view this Test in two halves because each team took from it their half of domination for future consideration.

    At half-time Australia led 17-6, having allowed two late penalties to the All Blacks. They had controlled the game well and defused anything the All Blacks had tried to start.

    The second half was entirely different. The All Blacks threw the ball around, finding gaps all over the place. Trailing 16-20 in the last movement of the match, Jeff Wilson was just about to make the winning score for New Zealand, when George Gregan dislodged the ball from his grasp.

    The Wallabies accepted the win, with coach Bob Dwyer following the same line of thinking as Wyllie, that the second half had been a ‘blip’.

    The All Blacks, on the other hand, had seen the Wallabies soft underbelly exposed, and proceeded to plan how they would play the game the following year at the World Cup.

    I can’t remember the journalist, it might have been the acerbic Evan Whitton, who observed drily, “Next year we should find out which half told the real story – the first half of the Wallabies, or the second half of the All Blacks”.

    Or something like that. At the 1995 World Cup, the All Blacks spectacularly swept all before bar the final, losing a tryless match in extra-time to the Boks.

    2003 Bledisloe Cups
    In the first encounter of 2003, the All Blacks steamrolled the Wallabies 50-21, throwing the Australian World Cup plans into despair. In the return match, the All Blacks had to call on all their resolve to hold out the fast-finishing Wallabies 21-17.

    The relief on the faces of the All Blacks was palpable. But coach John Mitchell at the time was enormously arrogant, and dismissed the Wallabies fight-back as an aberration.

    Had Mitchell paid more attention to this match, his team may not have been blind-sided in the semi-final, won sensationally and unexpectedly by the Wallabies 22-10.

    There are plenty of other examples, like 2011, but this should do for the moment. From the beginning of this year, each Test between leading contenders has told a story.

    It is the problem for the amateur sleuth to figure which of these little stories are most relevant.

    What will a double win for the Wallabies next weekend mean for them, and the All Blacks? Will this mean the Wallabies are on track, or ahead of schedule, and can relax?

    Human nature can be so insouciant and contradictory. The problem for coach Michael Cheika will be keeping his players on course.

    And what will a win for the All Blacks mean, since a majority of Kiwi and Aussie fans expect them to level the Bledisloe Cup? Will coach Steve Hansen and his team heave a sigh of relief?

    Most importantly of all, which team will learn the most from these double encounters, and heed its lessons, making the necessary adjustments in personnel, strategy and tactics leading into the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

    A former rugby lock, cricket no.11 bat and no.10 bowler, and surfboat rower. A fan of the major team sports in Australia.

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    The Crowd Says (22)

    • August 10th 2015 @ 8:15am
      Gonzo said | August 10th 2015 @ 8:15am | ! Report

      These little post-its of history are really irrelevant in my opinion. When fellow ABs fans talk up losing the 2011 Tri Nations as a precursor to winning the WC, it really makes me cringe. History means nothing. If the loss on Saturday is indicative of anything its:

      1. The Wallabies have it all together now from the coaching staff down to the playing group after a tumultuous time under MacKenzie
      2. Anyone can win on their day, the true essence of knockout Rugby
      3. The ABs must start games better, because if the other team doesn’t beat them like the Wallabies did, the clock will. Cardio will mean F-all if you can’t break the line control possession in the last 20.

    • Roar Guru

      August 10th 2015 @ 8:50am
      sheek said | August 10th 2015 @ 8:50am | ! Report

      Thanks Gonzo,

      Wow – history means nothing.

      I take it you must be a 20s-something, which means you have all the answers, & there’s nothing anyone tell you.

      • August 10th 2015 @ 10:47am
        Gonzo said | August 10th 2015 @ 10:47am | ! Report

        Sorry Sheek, I meant no disrespect and I didn’t articulate my position very well.

        I think history is relevant, but I don’t believe it alone determines future outcomes (noting that this is certainly not the argument you are posturing here). What I am referring to, was many opinions from ABs fans that a loss on Saturday night is a good omen for the year, considering that they lost at Suncorp in 2011 (sparked by a great Radike Samo try I had the honour of bearing witness to) and went on to win the WC.

        I believe the exact opposite is true in these circumstances. Although I do not believe the ABs era is over, it should concern them that they can’t start games well and have to rely on dead legs to get them through. What happens when this plan doesn’t work? Saturday night happens. I think the ABs have a better team this year than they did in 2011, and if they can learn from Saturday night then hopefully it won’t repeat itself again, not this season anyway.

        From a Wallaby perspective though, I think its great to see 74,000 fans at a game again and hopefully this win can put them back into the grace of the Golden Era that Eales, Kearns, Campese, Horan and Gregan grew from.

        • Roar Guru

          August 10th 2015 @ 11:17am
          sheek said | August 10th 2015 @ 11:17am | ! Report

          Okay Gonzo,

          I accept that.

          I probably haven’t articulated myself well either, if there is any suggestion that history is the only tool we can use.

          The point of history is this: we humans are creatures of habit. Children make the same mistakes their parents made. Each generation has to learn the same lessons, despite their parents best endeavours to “not make the same mistakes we made”.

          With history, the times, names & places may change, but the circumstances are eeerily similar. it’s why Rod MacQueen invoked the teawchings of Sun-Tzu, a Chinese warlord who lived several thousands of years ago, before Christ.

          It’s why Greek & Roman history is still relevant to our day to day existence today.

          Any person who reads history can learn both the good 7 bad about the pat, & better prepare themselves for the future.

          History isn’t the be-all-to-end-all, but it is significant.

          Whatever happens this coming Saturday, each team is going to have to take things away from it. Whoever does this best will go further at the world cup. History will help them.

          • August 10th 2015 @ 11:59am
            Not Bothered said | August 10th 2015 @ 11:59am | ! Report

            There is a lot to learn from the past.

            However you need to be smart about it.

            Some things in the past are irrelevant, meaningless.
            Some things in the past are worth paying attention to.

            I have read, multiple times, that you must win 7 games in a row to win the WC. This is clearly nonsense but people say “YOU DO, no team has ever won the WC having lost a game”. Thay is an example of looking at the past and being stup1d about it. I mean, no team has ever won the WC wearing blue socks either but that doesnt make it impossible to win it wearing them!
            I do think you can learn from a mistake and I do think it can give you a reality check but I also think that it is no omen or a necessity to do well in a WC.

            Back in the day people thought they had learned from the past when sacrificing people to the gods to get a good harvest, now we know that wasnt such a good idea.
            So if one thing is for certain, its that learning from your past may be just making an error in judgement by any other name.

            • Roar Guru

              August 10th 2015 @ 12:54pm
              sheek said | August 10th 2015 @ 12:54pm | ! Report

              Not Bothered,

              Spot on.

              History is like stats, it must still be interpreted correctly. Or perhaps wisely is the better word.

              The rugby world cup is still young. The day will come when a team drops a pool match, before coming back to win the world cup. It’s happened in football, it will happen in rugby.

            • August 10th 2015 @ 1:57pm
              John Rugby said | August 10th 2015 @ 1:57pm | ! Report

              What colour socks did England wear in 2003?

    • August 10th 2015 @ 10:21am
      Rupert said | August 10th 2015 @ 10:21am | ! Report

      An enjoyable read. its always fun to remmeber the past.

      But I’m not so sure any of this is all that relevant to today because the wallabies of 2015 are a culmination of all that has gone before. Looking forward to what is ahead is the only way because each world cup is different. New and advanced tactics are employed and so the game is forvever getting better in the same way swimming world records are always being usurped.

      Coaching, tactics and training and skill sets are continually being advanced.

      We have to stay one step ahead. That is the key. we need to be setingt the standard instead of catching up to it.

      it was interesteing that the NZ coaches were watching the Wallaby warm up. For the first time in along time we are setting the standard and others aspire to catch up.

      I’m sure everyone wil now be trying to come up with their own verison of ‘Pooper’ for example.

    • Columnist

      August 10th 2015 @ 10:26am
      Geoff Parkes said | August 10th 2015 @ 10:26am | ! Report

      Thanks Sheek, very interesting as always.

      2003 was remarkable, the AB’s ran in tries like it was touch rugby in Sydney, yet the transformation by the time of the cup was stunning and swift. To that end some AB’s supporters will feel that Saturday was not a bad loss to have at this time – although I’m betting that Steve Hansen would have much preferred a 50 point win and to back himself to keep he and his team better grounded that John Mitchell did.

      • Roar Guru

        August 10th 2015 @ 11:23am
        sheek said | August 10th 2015 @ 11:23am | ! Report


        Thanks for that. As you know this is a moving feast for which the final chapter has yet to be written. That won’t happen until 31 October, or thereabouts.

        No-one accepts a loss comfortably, but in the wash-up, i think it will do the ABs the world of good.

        There is a superstition attached to a winning team, in that it should not be tinkered with. Hansen may feel there are some things not going as well as he would like, but while the team keeps winning, it makes it hard to enforce change.

        Now that the ABs have lost, he can make those small changes if he so desires.

        What about Cheika? Despite the win, he had an under-performing halves combination. Does he give them a second chance, or throw Toomua & White in from the start?

        • Columnist

          August 10th 2015 @ 11:39am
          Geoff Parkes said | August 10th 2015 @ 11:39am | ! Report

          Well I still believe that Genia is Australia’s best halfback….

          I think Chieka will be rocked by Phipp’s performance on Sat. He has put his faith in him as his number one, but you simply can’t have a halfback spraying the ball everywhere and expect to keep winning matches.

          But it’s not so long ago that everyone had knives out for White as well – so it will be an acutely interesting selection.

          • Roar Guru

            August 10th 2015 @ 11:58am
            sheek said | August 10th 2015 @ 11:58am | ! Report


            I think a player can be excused one poor game.

    • August 10th 2015 @ 11:22am
      Sandgroper said | August 10th 2015 @ 11:22am | ! Report

      Sheek, nice work. You are probably a bit of a Cassandra, continuing the classical allusions. Don’t waste any ink on the Gen Y critics, it will take all of their longer lifetimes to realise that the wise old blokes, did know what they were talking about. George Bernard Shaw once said that ‘youth is wasted on the young’ he was talking about your young critic.

      What I like about the Wallaby set up now is that we have a coach who gets the key performance ingredient for success in anything…mindset. Other successful Aussie coaches knew this. It is the way to ultimately prevail. A total team effort with one focus.
      To rely on individual brilliance is a distractor. The great All Black and Wallaby sides did have individually brilliant players but the secret ingredient was team belief and focus. Getting the lesser lights to raise their performance does more to the bottom line than catering to the whims of the stars. Cheika gets this.

      I was a bit concerned about our long range place kick exponent. Bled 1 answered that. Now who is going to the winning drop goal in our great battle of attrition this week at Eden Park?

      • August 10th 2015 @ 12:17pm
        Not Bothered said | August 10th 2015 @ 12:17pm | ! Report

        Wise old men?

        Yeah because everything was just great in the past and older people never have biased opinions, are never stubborn, old fashioned or out of touch. They know it all.

        Shaw’s phrase was meant to suggest that young people squander the gift of youth and if the only knew of what a gift it was, not that old people know it all ffs.

        Research shows that older people tend to be more prejudiced and less likely to adopt a new way of thinking. That sounds like the opposite to wisdom to me.

        Everyone of all ages has wisdom to offer but maybe older people have far to often been dismissive of what younger people contribute.
        Sonetimes it takes generations for positive change because, as bad as it sounds, we have to wait for the prejudice of older generations to die out.

        • August 10th 2015 @ 12:37pm
          Rupert said | August 10th 2015 @ 12:37pm | ! Report

          As a general rule: Grumpy old men were grumpy when they were young men. Wise old men were wise when they were young men.

          The opposite of these two general statements is also generally true. Its very rare in this world for people to actually change their ways you see.

          My point is that experience, good or bad, is over-rated. You are just as likely to learn things, good or bad, from a younger person as you are from an older one.

          You are just as likely, probabaly more so, to find relevance in modern practices as older ones. You are jus as likely, probably more so, to find significance in current affairs as you are from history.

    • August 10th 2015 @ 12:24pm
      Hello said | August 10th 2015 @ 12:24pm | ! Report

      Thanks Sheek
      An enjoyable read.
      As you say what people learn from there past (and present) determins how they will act and react in the future