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The Roar

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The harder the Wallabies work, the luckier they get

Pick me Mike, pick me! Sean McMahon is loving life in Japan. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
Expert
7th October, 2015
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Over his career, golfer Gary Player accumulated nine major championships on the regular tour and six Champions Tour major championship wins.

Player was the original non-American to win all four majors – known as the Career Grand Slam – and is one of only five golfers in history to do so. He has won 165 tournaments on six continents over his career.

Incidentally, he has logged more than 25 million kilometres in travel, 325 design projects on five continents, and has also authored or co-written 36 golf books.

The first set of numbers attests to his golfing success. The second to his work ethic. To draw the two together, Player tells a wonderful story of learning to play out of the sand.

Speaking to Gold Digest, Player said, “I was practicing in a bunker down in Texas and this good old boy with a big hat stopped to watch. The first shot he saw me hit went in the hole. He said, ‘You got 50 bucks if you knock the next one in.’ I holed the next one.

“Then he says, ‘You got $100 if you hole the next one.’ In it went for three in a row.

“As he peeled off the bills he said, ‘Boy, I’ve never seen anyone so lucky in my life.’ And I shot back, ‘Well, the harder I work, the luckier I get’.”

It’s not certain whether Michael Cheika or any of the Wallabies are golf nuts, but there’s no doubt that – as with Player – the harder they work, the more their luck mounts up.

Like twins, there is a curious link between good fortune created by focused labour, and good luck unexpectedly breezed in by the universe. Labour usually has the courtesy to send a postcard warning of his arrival. Luck, on the other hand, arrives unannounced on the doorstep with a bouquet and a bottle.

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The twins don’t often travel together, but when they arrive at the same time, it can herald a period of unprecedented prosperity. Labour bulldozes the clear path. Luck dances along it with flowers in a basket.

Most people may not think so, but the Wallabies’ first piece of World Cup luck arrived in the form of the draw. Done in 2013, a ridiculous length of time before the tournament, the draw ensured that the Wallabies had to be on point from day one.

The ‘Pool of Death’ meant focus – no coasting through to the quarters here. For a Wallabies side historically used to breezing along, the draw gave the coaches a perfect excuse for plenty of hard yakka.

Despite the danger, the draw also favoured the Wallabies by giving them two matches to get into the groove before the big games against England and Wales.

England, on the other hand, played the opening match of the tournament – a massive occasion and nerve-wracking lottery – against a dangerous Fiji, before a must-win game against Wales.

Following England’s well-documented Wales disaster, the Wallabies were able to sit back and watch the screws turn on England from the loss, with no expenditure of effort on their part.

Of course, inexplicable England selections helped the Wallabies again. The selection of Chris Robshaw as an openside, the non-selection of Steffon Armitage, and the bubbling midfield broth of Sam Burgess, Brad Barritt, Henry Slade et al were all factors which played right into the Wallabies’ hard-on-the-ball, play-flat-at-the-line hands.

The scrum against England was the perfect mix of Labour and Luck. In the last 12 months, Labour saw Mario Ledesma appointed as scrum coach, scrum sessions extended to a gruelling 45 minutes of pure grind, and the appointment of a new guard of front rowers, untainted by the perceived weaknesses of of the past.

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The scrum path having been run through the wilderness by the blade of hard work, Luck then capered along it, scattering the rose petals of Romain Poite, Ben Morgan and the #scrumstraightjoe hashtag.

Poite is renowned as one of the most interested scrum referees in World Rugby. Early in the match one could see him taking careful note of the scrum dynamics before the penalties started to come.

When they did come, they came in a flood, all directed at Joe Marler, the man targeted by the #scrumstraightjoe campaign. Who knows whether Marler or Poite were even aware of the tag, but the debate created by #scrumstraightjoe and by former Wallabies coach Bob Dwyer’s acidic commentary, mixed with ex-England hooker Brian Moore’s Twitter indignation, must have seeped through somewhere.

After heaping pressure upon his own forward pack before the game, Ben Morgan was left red-faced after his comments that the Wallabies scrum was not up to the job. Even Graham Henry was amazed at Morgan’s stupidity in loading up his own team.

“England talked too much during the week,” the former All Blacks coach wrote in a column for The Guardian.

“Ben Morgan said how they were going to again dismantle the Australia scrum and use it as a catalyst to win the game but they were humbled at the set piece where Australia’s three front rowers, led by the impressive captain Stephen Moore, and their replacements, would have talked about this battle over a pint long into the night and will probably still be doing so when they go to the grave.”

Looking forward, the luck continues for the Wallabies with Michael Hooper’s suspension. Hooper was dead lucky not to be yellow-carded during the England match for his wild charge into the ruck. Whether he technically had arms in the cleanout or not is a moot point – it was not a smart play to invite the referee into the equation at that stage of the game.

But fortune prevailed and Hooper remained on the field, which undoubtedly helped the Wallabies to stay stable en route to a famous victory.

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The temptation to pick Hooper for Wales would have subsequently been enormous, but fortunately the decision has been taken out of the selectors’ hands and Hooper gets a one-week rest.

This is where Labour and Luck again come together. If Sean McMahon is picked, as he ought to be, Cheika’s willingness to throw McMahon into Test rugby on last year’s Spring Tour against Wales now comes to fruition, as does his smarts in giving the whole dirt-track squad an outing against Uruguay.

Not only does McMahon have 80 minutes of man-of-the-match rugby under his belt against Los Teros, but he has Test experience against the very side in question. He is strong and in form. The Wallabies get a triple benefit here – Hooper gets a rest, they sub in a form player who will quite likely influence the match, and McMahon is further battle-hardened in case he is needed later in the Cup.

If anything, Hooper’s suspension strengthens the Wallabies’ campaign overall, and yet they avoided being weakened late in their match against England.

Of course, Welsh injuries over the last several weeks play into the Wallabies’ hands. Wales’ bad luck collides with the Wallabies’ hard work, to make for a daunting assignment for the Scarlets at Twickenham this weekend.

The scheduling is fortunate for Australia. After the England win, Twickenham will seem like a happy hunting ground. Australian fans will be numerous and vocal, adding to the general hubbub. Absent England, and the ‘Swing Low’ dirge, Twickenham is one of the world’s great rugby grounds, a treat to play at, with a magnificent surface. The Wallabies will feel good running out there at the scene of their most recent triumph.

Further on? Skerricks of luck from weeks gone by will continue to play out. Japan’s defeat of South Africa will continue to rankle and motivate die Bokke, but the flip in the draw at semi-time will potentially allow the Wallabies to avoid the bruising Boks and probably play Ireland instead. Ireland are no easy assignment to be sure, but Rugby World Cup history against the Boks is altogether too close for comfort.

The icing on the Wallabies’ cake of good fortune? Every match from the quarter-finals on will be at their new home-away-from-home, Twickenham.

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Of course, all of the lucky confetti is just so much shredded paper unless it falls on broad shoulders hardened by hours of work and courageous endeavour. It has long been a rugby maxim that dominant sides get the rub of the green. Nothing has changed.

Indeed, Cheika, Ledesma and Stephen Larkham know only too well that the job is not even half done. There is a long way to go. But they will be heartened by the twins’ small blessings that continue to mount up, smoothing the path for their hard-working Wallaby side.

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