The Wallabies right now resemble a golden retriever puppy – good-natured, full of energy and easy to like despite the occasional accident on the carpet.
They also have a fondness for games of chase.
In every Test match so far in 2021, the Wallabies have run out onto the field bright-eyed and full of beans, only to spend the opening stanza chasing their tails while waiting for the opposition to throw the ball for them.
Once they know where the ball has landed – typically about ten or 15 points away – they rip right into chasing it down. Sometimes, they even do it twice – as on Saturday in Auckland, when they tried first to run down a modest deficit and then a second bigger one.
To be honest, this isn’t a new habit. Chasing was a feature of their big games at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, too, and in 2020.
While there’s no doubting the Wallabies’ commitment to the chase (and the entertainment value in watching their attempts), it doesn’t always end well. An inexperienced French team is one thing, but chasing the game simply won’t cut it against the dangerous All Blacks, powerful Springboks or pragmatic Pumas.
The Wallabies need to learn a new trick and work out how to throw the ball for themselves rather than running in circles until the opposition gives them something to pursue.
No doubt head coach Dave Rennie, possibly in consultation with ‘Wallaby whisperer’ Dave Diggle, will have some ideas about how the team can establish a new habit of taking control early.
Once the team gets the hang of their new trick of proactive starts, there’s no reason they can’t produce it consistently – hopefully while continuing to reinforce their current good habit of strong finishes.
The Wallabies have long been a hard-working team. Even when things weren’t going too well in 2018 and 2019, the Wallabies had a strong work ethic – misdirected, perhaps, but it was there.
This year, it seems to have risen a level – as though skipper Michael Hooper has shared the secrets of his indefatigable efforts with the rest of the team. There’s a bit of X-factor from Marika Koroibete and Taniela Tupou.
In the main, though, the Wallabies’ strength lies in the work rate of the captain and trusty grafters like Allan Ala’alatoa, Matt Philip and Matt To’omua.
Can a team of supremely hard workers do what star-studded generations from the last decade and more could not and bring home some of rugby’s biggest prizes?
The Wallabies have made no bones about their ambitions. To achieve them and become one of international rugby’s big dogs, they’ll need to work hard to avoid chasing the game, and instead take Test matches by the scruff of the neck from the start.
If they can do that, there’s a fair chance of snagging some silverware – along with plenty of pats and praise.