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Opinion

Youth is no excuse for national humiliation, but it is the solution

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Roar Guru
31st October, 2020
37
1352 Reads

There is no excuse for the performance on Saturday night.

Not the weather. Not preparation. And not youth.

43-5 is a national humiliation and the worst loss against New Zealand in Wallaby history. It was not just the margin but the manner of the loss. Out-coached, out-thought, out-skilled.

Noah Lolesio complained last week about not entering the fray in the first Test when it was finally poised. Well Noah, any international 10 must know that short chip kicks and speculative grubbers in your first 20 minutes of Test rugby are a bad idea.

But repeating that bad idea over and over against the All Blacks on the back of 30 per cent possession is unforgivable. It’s not lack of maturity, it’s a lack of discipline.

To be fair to Lolesio, his lack of respect for possession was shared by multiple players. Outside him, Jordan Petaia and Filipo Daugunu showed even less respect for the pill if that’s possible.

And let’s be clear about this – it does not matter if you are 20, 25 or 35. Respect for possession and an appreciation of how poisonous a disrespect can be should be in any rugby player’s DNA. Just ask the All Blacks, many of whom are also very young with few Tests under their belts.

As Sam Cane said in his post-match interview, the All Blacks didn’t really do anything special in the first half of the game. Yet they were 26-nil up at halftime.

When you turn over possession, kick the ball away and throw no-look passes that happens. In fact, some may argue the scoreline flattered the Wallabies.

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The lack of leadership from the few senior Australians on the field also must not go unspoken.

It is not enough for Michael Hooper to be all ‘blood and guts’ anymore, if it ever was. Work rate alone does not make an international captain. Did he have a quiet word in Lolesio’s ear or pause at the 15-minute mark to read the riot act to his outside backs? If he did, there was no response.

Michael Hooper of the Wallabies talks with Filipo Daugunu

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

The same criticisms should be levelled at Nic White. He knows better too. White was arguably even more culpable for not taking charge of the direction of play when it became apparent Lolesio and the baby backs were at best over playing their hand and at worst had lost the plot.

Keep the ball tight, eat up defenders and at least give Lolesio a chance to compose himself and those outside him.

In addition to the senior players, the coaching team must shoulder equal if not more responsibility for what was a national embarrassment.

Never has any coach gone from hero to zero quite so dramatically and quickly.

Yes, the losses of James O’Connor and Matt To’omua were severely damaging. Yes, trying to balance experience and youth is difficult. But Dave Rennie has left himself open to a justifiable savaging from the likes of Alan Jones.

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He immediately anointed Hooper as captain, seemingly oblivious to the historical folly of doing so. Playing David Pocock at 8. Losing both Liam Gill and Sean McMahon overseas.

Even Scott Fardy’s decision to pull the plug early on the Wallabies was because he saw no way to fit into a side with both Hooper and Pocock in it. Rennie has not learned the lessons of the past.

His selections are 75 per cent spot on and 25 per cent bizarre. How on earth did Ned Hanigan and Rob Simmons find their way into this squad? Why was Peter Samu discarded completely fresh from a 16-all draw against the All Blacks? Why was Tate McDermott absent for the first two Tests?

Simmons is a brilliant lineout technician but the game has passed him by arguably for five years now. He goes missing in action not for lack of desire but because his body is ten seconds behind the game in 2020.

Ned Hanigan is a club-class Rocky Elsom who on any sensible analysis should not be in the side ahead of a host of Australian backrowers. He tries hard but Hanigan wearing the same jumper as Owen Finnegan, Matt Cockbain, Elsom and Scott Fardy is comical.

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And then there was Saturday night. From kick-off to full time, the All Blacks signalled an intent to attack the short side. Over and over they went there in the first 20 minutes with massive gains.

Somehow, the Wallabies held on at 7-nil down. Yet nothing at all was done to fix what would ultimately be Australia’s major weakness. Where was the Wallaby blindside flanker defending? It sure wasn’t on the blindside!

Was Noah Lolesio defending at fullback designed to protect him? If so, didn’t it do the opposite and why was it necessary in the first place? Is Lolesio already the Quade Cooper of the 2020s?

The likes of Phil Kearns also need to learn that talking up the national team prematurely does so much harm. Predicting a Wallaby win in the Sydney papers after a comprehensive beating the week before isn’t smart.

Be quiet Phil. Please. The premature ejaculation of overconfidence and bravado does nobody any good.

It is now apparent that the 16-all draw in New Zealand was an anomaly. The Wallabies caught the All Blacks sleeping.

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Where Dave Rennie goes from here is hard to say. There is but one week to recover from the worst loss against the All Blacks in Australian history.

The only obvious positives from the match were the performances of Brandon Paenga-Amosa and Matt Philip.

Matt To’omua is out until 2021. James O’Connor won’t be back next week. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto is probably out too. There is nothing to lose. So why not really give youth a chance to change the guard?

Hanigan and Simmons must be retired permanently. Hooper rested. A backrow of Harry Wilson, Fraser McReight and Samu should start with Isi Naisarani on the bench ready to come on with Tongan Thor and Trevor Hosea at the 55-minute mark.

The riot act must be read to Lolesio and Daugunu especially setting out the difference between attack and irresponsible adventurism. Both deserve one more chance, just one, to pull their socks up.

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McDermott has to come into the starting side for White, who opened the season with two classy halves of football but has now played four consecutive stinkers. As soon as McDermott entered the game, there was go-forward and distribution at speed.

Australia lost to New Zealand 43 to 6 in 1996 and went on to win Bill in 1999. England lost to the Wallabies in 1998 on the ‘Tour of Hell’ by 76 points to nil and went on to win a World Cup in 2003. Even the Boks lost 57-0 to New Zealand in 2017.

All is not lost but if we are changing the guard, let’s do it properly as there is little more to lose and much to gain.