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The same old poor Wallabies story - poor discipline, poor kicking and poor penalties

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Roar Guru
19th July, 2023
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Once again we see and hear the same issues: Discipline and penalties. For quite a long period now we have heard the same message and as much as various coaches say they are onto it, the problem continues.

We still remain up there with the statistics in regard to penalties.

So what is the solution? Do we look at individuals giving penalties? Do we look at the particular type of penalties? What particular statistic do we choose to evaluate in order to find a solution? Skills and fitness perhaps?

When we look at our kicking game – which has also been an issue for quite some time- we can see many kicks that create opportunities for the opposition and as such put us under pressure.

Let’s think of why you kick in rugby. Is it to attack, for position or to defend?

If it’s attack – you would presume you have a good chance of getting the ball back or you are putting the opposition in a position that could benefit your attack.

If it’s positional – it’s to put you in a better position, obviously gaining ground. Often this means you need to get the ball out and you put yourself closer to the opposition’s tryline- thus putting pressure on your opposition to either get out, or getting better set to attack.

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If it’s defensive – you are trying to get the ball away from close proximity to your tryline and you want to take the pressure off your team by clearing the ball away form the ‘danger’ area. Generally this will involve getting the ball out, not giving the opposition an opportunity to attack again from broken play.

Whilst this may seem like basic rugby from a past era it still holds true in test match rugby as much today as in the past.

Today we can see how kicking has been used by Australian sides over the last ten years or more- we kick it directly to an opposing player who then has time to react. We persist in kicking it into the centre of the field to a player who is adept at kicking and counter attacking, and we give them options.

We rarely kick it to the sidelines (rarely kicking it out), which limits options, is easier to attack and defend and limits options, by limiting space to move especially if your ‘defensive’ attack comes two pronged covering outside forcing players to the touchline- not rocket science, just obvious use of space.

(Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

If you look at the back three of the All Blacks and the Springboks you will note they have good attacking players who can both kick and run – and we keep putting the ball down their throats, sometimes they don’t even have to move to catch the ball. It’s giving them opportunities to put the pressure back on. Yes, initially we gain metres, but more often than not we then find ourselves either under pressure or we have actually lost ground.

Then we have this relatively ‘recent’ idea of box kicks that seem to have very little purpose, not really gaining ground, not really attacking – basically wasting possession as it becomes a lottery as to who will get the ball and you haven’t really gained any positional advantage.

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If you are not using it to gain positional advantage, then it must be that you can contest and possibly gain an advantage by getting the ball back. If that’s not the case, you are wasting your possession of the ball. In many cases we are not playing smart rugby and that leads to oppositional pressure.

It would seem that for a number of years now Australian teams have not understood the reasons behind why we kick the ball in Rugby Union, which is quite different to rugby league. You will note there is not much ‘general play’ kicking in league.

I remember Roger Millward (English Player) who used little kicks etc… He didn’t waste kicks, he used them to advantage to break up defensive patterns and as such would put his side on the attack and create issues for the opposing team due to structured defensive patterns.

The issue of kicking in rugby has always been a contentious issue, especially for Australians who believe in ‘attacking’ rugby.

Unfortunately we seemed to have forgotten or misunderstood the importance of kicking and how it is an important part of attacking rugby if used for a reason – at the moment we don’t seem to know why or how to kick.

Secondly,the laws of rugby in regard to mauls and rucks are very much open to a referee’s interpretation, and as such teams need to be aware of how the referee is applying the laws. This should be a part of a coach’s directive to assist players in the heat of the moment.

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Have our coaches been proactive in ‘educating’ their captains and teams in regard to what particular referees preferences are? Furthermore, captains need to adapt, obviously there will be occasions where decisions are made that may not be ‘correct’ but that is the reality of human error/preference.

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Thus, the coach must make sure players are aware of the consequences of their actions- which would mean repeated offenders do not get selected. Obviously this would require looking at individual/team offenses- but it would appear that the Australian team is not learning or is not being held accountable and as such, the success rate of the team is diminished.

Thirdly, consistency. Why is it Australian teams have trouble being consistently ‘good’? It is probably not since the 1980s that Australian teams have been able to put in consistent performances. I have no doubt that the talent and ability is still there, is it the attitude, the skills, the coaches, or the lack of understanding of the difference between club, state and international rugby?

Lastly, whilst I don’t question the commitment of Australian sides over the last few years – obviously they are very proud to being Wallabies – but if they continue to make the same mistakes, give someone else a go. Whilst it may seem they may not be as good they may step up and take on board you will not been successful if you keep making the same mistakes.

During the Rennie era, I noticed a spirit building within the Australian team and I think it is unfortunate that he wasn’t given the chance to see it through to the World Cup. Having said that, there is no reason why Eddie Jones can’t tap into that spirit and develop a team that has potential to win the World Cup – and even though many may question it, there is always that potential!

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