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They say that it’s in our DNA, that running rugby is the Australian way, the way we play the game that’s played in heaven.
Having watched our latest Test defeat, and pondering on yet another year that could have been, I can’t help but think, should we park running rugby on the shelf for the moment?
Our friends from across the ditch still manage to pull it off (weather permitting), our South American friends lend their hand to it from time to time, but after watching the last couple of seasons of Test match rugby it seems to me that everyone else is going about their business a little differently.
I think I really started noticing it during the Lions tour in NZ last year, I realised that every top nation had been watching and finally learnt how to combat New Zealand’s effective running and attacking style of play…
Just don’t play like Australia.
Australians by design are glass half full, we push the envelope, “let’s see if it can come off”. Our running attacking style means we are forever leaving ourselves open to counter-attaching opportunities, intercepts and run away tries.
The only difference was that in the past we were at least scoring from four to six of our own opportunities, so the game looked and probably was, a lot more balanced. One of the major problems with Australian rugby these days, is that it wants to play with a lot of similarities to New Zealand’s style of running attacking rugby, only difference is we don’t do it nearly as well and we lack a lot of the basic catch-pass skills to pull it off. But that’s a story for another day.
I believe the last 18 months has seen a renewed emphasis on controlling the collision, the best teams seem to defend fast and defend well, they also compete well at the set plays – but are not solely defined by them.
It almost seems like they let the attack take care of itself. That is, if you are pushing forward and are being dominant and doing the basics well and show patience, that the tries will come (not rocket science, I know). None of this is conducive to running rugby and one thing the Wallabies of 2018 have not been is patient.
How else is the game evolving?
Body shapes are changing in rugby, the professional era, professional era pay check and human evolution all but guarantee this, and I am a firm believer that by RWC 2023 every team will play with five back rowers, just two of them will be playing in jerseys 12 and 13.
There will be such an emphasis on rush defence and getting over the advantage line in every collision that every team will need five to seven game day starters, all of them 6 foot 2 (minimum) that are 105 to 110 kg’s (minimum).
Your centres will become less Colin Slade and Matt Toomua and more Manu Tuilagi and Samu Kerevi.
Your back three will all need to be super quick, great under the high ball and with the feet of a ballerina, only now they will all be over 6 foot, do the 100m in sub 11 seconds and probably come in at round 100 kg’s.
Don’t believe me? Just look at Reiko Ioane and Joe Cokanasiga, that’s the future.
You will still need a gobby hobbit and a star quarterback to steer teams around the park, hopefully pull off the occasional bit of magic, but there will be more and more reliance on pin point kicking and putting one of your centres or back rowers through a hole in the defence after bashing each other at the breakdown for five minutes.
The tight five will still look like the tight five we have now, otherwise we lose the integral parts of rugby that make us different, okay – make us better. A game without set pieces, scrums, line-outs and mauls?
Sounds a lot like rugby league to me, and we owe our future generations more than that. Just expect them all to be a bit bigger, stronger and faster.
Looking at the size of the English, Irish and South African packs these days is just mind-blowing how big all their ball runners and defenders are. Speaking of forwards, Pooper + Samu, Hanigan or Dempsey is not an international-sized back row, a lot of teams have bigger, faster backs then them.
This isn’t about a lack of commitment or rugby smarts – our numbers simply don’t stack up to our opponents.
So, what is Australia’s answer?
Do we continue with our failing running rugby, hoping that we will eventually bridge the skills gap with New Zealand? Unlikely. Unless all future Test matches are played indoors, we are going to need multiple game plans.
Do we try to follow suit with the rest of the world, play a more direct approach and embrace our northern rivals? One thing I do know is that we need change, change from trying to play like a B grade All Blacks side, coming up against northern hemisphere teams who are now competing and winning against actual All Blacks sides.
The purists on this site won’t like this but do we take the English and Irish road and introduce a little rugby league into our systems – especially when it comes to defence and tackling (just look at what Andy Farrell has done for the Irish set up)?
I’m not a huge rugby league fan, but I like a contest. I’m thinking about what a coach like Craig Bellamy could bring to the Wallabies set up as a support coach, especially when it comes to support play, defence, tackling and most importantly – character and teamwork. Not saying he would likely want the job but could it be any worse than what we have at the moment? Sounds radical but these are radical times.
I think in my heart of hearts I would like to see us take a little from column A and a little from column B. What I mean by that is, keep some of the razzle dazzle that keeps Southern Hemisphere rugby different from our northern counterparts.
I mean, the weather in our neck of the woods is so much better and conducive to running rugby anyway. But, and it is a big but – we must be able to adapt. We need a coach that has the versatility to be able to train his players and game management to different styles of rugby. Surely you wouldn’t have the same 23 for NZ on a dry track that you would have against England in the wet.
I didn’t want to have a parting shot but I can’t help myself. I mean, the whole idea that Cheika would put Foley at 12 knowing full well he would be defending and attacking the line against Farrell, Teo and Tuilagi, all bigger, faster and stronger than him in both attack and defence beggar’s belief!
In summary, for the off season, RWC 2019 and beyond: Uelese, Niasarani, Valetini, Tupou, BPA, Lurkan and any other promising young forward. They need early nights, big diets and all bulking up to 115 to 120 kgs, minimum.
Without all of you getting over the gain line and putting in bruising hits, how do you expect Kerevi, Folau, Haylett Petty and Banks to work their running magic if all our forwards are going backwards? Just a couple of hints on some I think/hope might be in the RWC squad if they have a good super rugby campaign.
Running rugby will always have a place in my heart, its what i grew up on and i think the game would be lesser without it. But for the Wallabies in 2019, i think we need to go back to basics – and hit the gym.
Anyway, my first article, hope you enjoyed it.