After the previous loss to the Boks, All Black Jordie Barrett has just signed a record deal for club Santa as he is clearly overcome by the spirit of giving and sending gifts. He might not be alone, and someone might be in disguise!
The All Blacks, predictably, bounced back while the Wallabies, yet again under Michael Cheika, showed a lack of rugby nous at key moments; this time on the flanks and with some dumbfounding passing and inept kicking in places.
Beale’s pass inside his 22 under enormous pressure, that was clearly not on, was straight out of the J. Barrett playbook of dumb and completely dumbfounding, except Barrett’s was a dreadfully judged, and poorly executed quick lineout with the same result.
Barrett will be very fine All Black as he develops, and sooner rather than later, but he didn’t even make the bench in the next Test. He won’t forget that gift to the opposition any time soon.
Beale managed to bring the home crowd into the game in the first three minutes. Everyone got handed some early Christmas cheer. If the goalpost was the tree, Beale was the present beneath it.
Post-match, Cheika claimed there were positives (he has been telling us this a lot lately) almost in contradiction to his one-time regular proclamation that there is no such thing as an honourable loss or losing well.
That’s something he has put away in recent times, to be replaced by telling us there were positives and improvements, and there perhaps were in some areas, but they still lost and in back-to-back Tests at that.
The tactics failed and, despite Pocock’s usual turnover heroics, they lost the contact battle at vital times in the game. The lineout was again dysfunctional at key moments, they failed to capitalise on the opposition being down to 14 men in last 15 minutes when sides are tired.
In the same period, captain Michael Hooper decided to kick for touch on the side of the sin binned winger, meaning the Boks were not as stretched in defence as, if the Wallabies go wide and their backs are defending in their normal positions, the left wing is covered by the forwards in the lineout.
Unbelievably dumb tactical rugby from Hooper (or Captain Santa), this is rugby 101 as is kicking for goal in the 54th minute when you are right out in front and not 30 points down, but instead, Hooper goes for touch getting nothing in return.
But hey, the spirit of giving has come early for some players.
It is not the first time Hooper has made this same mistake. He needs to learn there is a time for taking a gamble, it can even be necessary in the context of a game.
This was not the time so early on in second half. The Wallabies needed points for their efforts and it was a gift three. Santa would have said “take it son and have a happy Xmas.”
If you include his stints as captain before he officially got the job, Hooper has a very poor 37 per cent winning record. This is not a man who is marshalling the men and leading them to victory. There is a different between being gallant in the field of battle as Hooper certainly is, and being an inspirational leader of men willing them on to victory against the odds.
Poor decision making, and especially ones that are dumb in the context of the game is not today, tomorrow or yesterday, good leadership. Mistakes happen for any captain, but Hooper has made some bad decisions at the helm and does not seem to be learning from them.
A certain three points with only 54 minutes on the clock gives your forwards a rest and something to show for their efforts going forward. Getting nothing in return when they were there for the taking is not good for team morale. Sure, if you get a try you are genius, but how many times have we seen these decisions backfire with so much time left on the clock?
The context of game was that South Africa were not long from a break and still fresh with a defense that was full of confidence and hurting Australia – you take the three with 26 minutes to go every time. The Australian commentary team without exception, was clearly bewildered at Hooper’s poor judgement.
When asked about the lineout issues post-match, Cheika resorted to his go-to-card and blamed the referee for allowing – in one lineout apparently – the Springboks to have six men on a Wallaby throw in a five-man lineout, thus avoiding the bigger question of the endemic issues in the Wallaby lineout that, as soon as you think they are fixed, come back to haunt Cheika and the Wallabies.
The problem for Australia is they lack the nous, tactics and cohesion in defence and attack, not to mention unforced, revolving combinations, to consistently bounce back from defeat to take victory.
This is especially prevalent in three-Test series like the Bledisloe, or the England or Ireland series, or even Scotland home-and-away and now another back-to-back loss in the Rugby Championship, which began with back-to-back losses against the All Blacks.
Some issues are a game-by-game issues, but too many are ongoing.
1. Structures that seem to change with every game without an obvious strong tactical reason.
2. A continuous failure to manifest a consistent strong tactical kicking game (an area that Ireland and Jonathan Sexton gave the Wallabies a lesson in) and a coach who openly admitted on Fox Sports that he does little practice on at training, to the dismay of all present who might have been asking “is Cheika actually Santa in disguise?”
3. Far too many missed tackles in the ‘D’, where the Wallabies are averaging an unacceptable 25+ per game – now there’s a gift from Santa’s reindeer man Nathan Grey.
4. No back-up, or serious depth issues, at 9, 10, 6, and 8 and an 8 who plays like a 7 and is the country’s best 7.
5. Endemic lineout issues.
6. Revolving combinations, especially at lock, 6, 7, 8 and now 9 and 10.
7. For too long, a clear lack of Test fitness – only now being rectified.
8. A bench who still can not be said to be consistently match winning with 25 to go, and one that is often out gunned by the opposition bench, even Scotland’s. Taniela Tupou proved he is a better bench player at this stage of his career and his impact was missed with 20 to go.
9. A captain who fails to truly inspire, makes too many poor on-field decisions and lacks contact impact but works like Trojan horse around the field no question.
10. Playmaker at 10 is now a huge issue for Cheika. The Wallaby 10’s Kurtley Beale (who has been much better at 12 and is even better at 15) and Bernard Foley have been the worst of the four sides. Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo’unga, Damian MacKenzie, Nicolas Sanchez and Handre Pollard, are all playing better tactical and creative rugby at 10 than Foley or Beale.
If Cheika wants Foley to be at his best come world cup time, he needs to play hi,m or develop Reece Hodge there and get Beale back 12 or 15 and put Folau on the wing or at 13.
11. Is Pooper really working? I mean really, when was the last time the Wallabies won the contact battle when they were together or because they were the combination? It has been noted that last season when Pocock didn’t play, the Wallaby lineout stats were some of the best they have had for a season in a while – now the combination is back, the lineout woes are as well; just pure coincidence?
Making Hooper captain was a mistake by Cheika on a few fronts. Pocock must play at 7 or 6 at a stretch and, yes, positions do matter. Ned Hanigan is simply not world-class and not good enough to be the test no. 6 at this stage. His trial should be over for now.
If ever one needed proof of how important a brilliant ball carrying 8 is, then look no further than how Ardie Savea filled the roll for the All Blacks. He even made the team of the round at no. 8 in two newspapers, including the Sydney Morning Herald.
The Springboks have heaped praise on the New Zealand pack and scrum this week, but how immense was Savea? Hansen gave him massive wraps in all areas of his game – that leg drive of his is a total beast. He showed to me what the Wallabies are badly missing at 8 with an out-and-out 7 like Pocock there.
Time and time again Savea got the All Blacks well over the gain line going forward, and his defence was equally savage showing his positional adaptability.
He didn’t play 8 like a 7 and the All Blacks would have ensured that he was instructed not to. If ever a game made a statement that he has truly arrived at Test level – it was last Saturday.
But the Boks are on a roll, and will be tough at home that is for sure – very tough this season as I predicted they would be on The Roar, with the better pedigreed Erasmus at the wheel before the start of the season – they always had most of the cattle.
The All Blacks have Rieko Ioane and Waisake Naholo back on the wings and that could cause the hosts big issues on the flanks this time round. With Ben Smith back at 15, he will masquerade as Santa as Jordie did. The All Blacks must watch Pollard near the line and defend the rolling maul.
As for the Wallabies against Argentina, it is a must win for Cheika. Argentina are on the rise, especially at home, but they will need their pack to have parity and contain Will Genia’s running game – and Beale’s if he is at 12.
The Wallabies will need to contain Sanchez and the Pumas’ very classy and dangerous back three. Playing away is not a Wallaby strength in recent times.
Try as they may, the Wallabies under the off-field leadership of Michael Cheika, and on on-field with Michael Hooper, cannot find a way to clinch the deal against the best sides in the game and, worse still, they have a poor away record under his tenure, while their home record is not inspiring either. I feel for the Australian rugby public.
If anything separates New Zealand from any other side in game, it is their consistency away from home, coupled with possessing the only true claim to a fortress in the world game in Eden Park. That makes winning a series against the All Blacks in New Zealand the toughest ask in the world game.
England’s claims to Twickenham as their fortress have been melted down in recent times, and were completely eroded after the 2015 world cup, where it became their graveyard.
June window exempted, where one Northern side only plays the All Blacks three times, all the Northern Hemisphere sides should be thankful they don’t have to play them twice like Argentina or the Boks – or like Australia three times – every season.
One wonders how they would go oi the rankings if they did and how strong their so-called fortresses would stack up. Even so, this does not exonerate Cheika’s incredibly ordinary record as Wallaby coach since the 2015 world cup.
When thinking of the Wallabies’ inability to regularly bounce back and win series, or sometimes the next game, a quote, wrongly attributed to legendary Green Bay Packers coach, Vince Lombardi, springs to mind and one the Wallabies and Cheika should pin on the dressing room wall.
“It’s not how many times you get knocked down that count, it’s how many times you get back up’.
Lombardi actually stole, or should we say “borrowed”, this from infamous US General George A. Custer: a man who was controversial, but kept coming back from such things as two Court Marshalls and his horse shot out from under him 11 times, to always lead the cavalry charge and taking some of the most brilliant and gutsiest victories ever seen in the American Civil War.
He became the youngest general in US history at 23, and was tactically brilliant until he started believing his own publicity, developing a modern-day celebrity-like ego which ultimately cost he and his men their lives. Lombardi took the Packers to a five NFL championships. He was no coaching Santa for opposition sides and neither was Custer until Little Big Horn.
Can these attributes, this kind of tactical nous, this will to consistently get back up to fight back to take victory be claimed of Cheika and the Wallabies?
No wonder many fans are fed up. Cheika and his team keep getting knocked down but rarely get back up to take victory when it matters.
The last Bledisloe match they won, the series was already lost – as it will be in game three. Ireland lost the first then took the next two to take the series, and the Wallabies couldn’t figure out how to beat England in three Tests at home let alone at Twickenham, with both Eddie Jones and Joe Schmidt seemingly having his measure tactically and, in the latter’s case, as soon as Johnny Sexton and Conner Murray started the game they controlled it.
Cheika must go if they lose to Argentina and even then – his 40 per cent win rate since the world and his record against New Zealand, England and Ireland is very poor indeed – add Scotland to that and it ain’t pretty.
Not to mention numerous articles about the Wallaby shortfalls after a loss which is telling in itself.
Cheika has overseen the worst slide on the rankings in Wallaby history. Under his command, they have the worst attacking record in 40 years according to the Herald, averaging fewer points per game than any other previous coach in that time, while leaking far too many tries – 12 against New Zealand alone this season.
Stephen Larkham and Grey are not working, but they are Cheika’s men. A Fijian as scrum coach – what the? Mick Byrnes must also be on medication by now – is he being used the same way the All Blacks got the best out of him I wonder?
At least under Robbie Deans and Ewen McKenzie they had the appearance of a plan B and could adapt and adjust their game on the run better than they are now.
No other coach in a tier one nation would have survived Cheika’s record over the last three years, unless racial policies were at work like South Africa, but no obvious contenders inside Australia, coupled with the massive payout they have to give him if they sack him leaves little room for sacking.
It’s a ridiculous situation for Raelene Castle and Rugby AU to be in and they have been paying for it for a while now.
If the Pumas win this weekend, Cheika saying he sees improvements won’t be enough to save him this time one feels, and Hooper’s captaincy must be handed to someone else.
Even the Wallaby resident defense attorney Phil Kearns couldn’t defend some of Hooper’s decisions in the weekend and that is saying something!
Hooper and Cheika might also be joining Barrett and team Santa after the Argie game!
Jingle bells, Jingle bells, Jingle all the way, Oh that I must ask, has Cheika had his day? Or will he be the gift that keeps on giving?