Survivor: Test rugby, a guide for Wallabies
August 26, 2013
Greg Growden aims to help the Wallabies out of the wilderness (if not the English Lake District) © Getty Images
The All Blacks are on a different level and the Bledisloe Cup was last seen in Australia when bell-bottom flares were in fashion, but it is not yet "throw in the towel" time for the Wallabies. It just requires tinkering with the starting XV, a bit of belief, some harsh words from coach Ewen McKenzie, a defensive strategy that works, plenty of hard toil, and the Wallabies could soon remember what it's like to be winners.
Here's a six-point survival plan.
1: Horses for courses
Thankfully the Wallabies' next Test match is in Brisbane, where they feel comfortable and know they will be surrounded by friendly fans accustomed to regular Australian victories in their fair city. And when in Brisbane, there is only one option at No 10. Quade Cooper. This is his city. This is his domain. And none of those nasty New Zealanders will be in the crowd booing him every time he moves his big toe.
Matt Toomua has shown he has potential, and he provided enough indicators during the Bledisloe Cup series that he will mature into a credible Test No.10. But it is time for a change, and there is no better place for Cooper to return to his one-time Test starting spot but on the ground he is so accustomed to.
2: Move Israel Folau to fullback and give Jesse Mogg a rest
For the third game in a row, Jesse Mogg has fallen short. It is clear that pressure gets to him, which sees him make untimely mistakes. He still has not proven he has a rounded game - not surprising when he was used as a robotic midfield kicker for the Brumbies this year. Also your defence at fullback has to be perfect, and in both Bledisloe Cup matches Mogg has suffered major lapses. Israel Folau at fullback also alleviates the problem of him not getting enough possession to make an impact. Folau had a far more vigorous role in the Wellington Test because his team-mates remembered he was out on the wing, while he also went looking for work. This will only be amplified if he plays at fullback, where he showed great promise with the Waratahs this season. And maybe it's time to give back-up half-back Nic White more game time. For some odd reason, Will Genia looks jaded.
Israel Folau is learning where to hunt for the ball © Getty Images
3: Bring back Benn Robinson
Forget about the endless boasts that the Wallabies' scrum is gradually improving. It's not. It is often one step forward, two steps back for the pack. The All Blacks dominated the Wellington battle up-front, and the Wallabies struggled at times to hang on. What must be remembered is that Benn Robinson, who was omitted from the squad before the first Bledisloe Cup match, can boast numerous brilliant scrummaging performances against the Springboks. One excellent Cape Town effort immediately comes to mind. It is certainly time for his recall. And McKenzie knows first-hand that Robinson immediately rebounds after being snubbed.
4: Remind the Wallabies of some basic defensive drills
What has been most exasperating about the Wallabies is their inability to keep their defensive line. Players are either rushing out of line (Christian Leali'ifano is a serial offender) or turning in (virtually everyone in the backline), allowing the All Blacks the chance to affect the easiest of overlaps. One-on-one, many forwards are also poor.
Wallabies defensive coach Nick Scrivener had better start earning his keep, as with several players who appear to have forgotten the basics of the game - which also includes how to catch, pass and kick. Maybe autographs are barred when the Wallabies have their next fan day, and the supporters instead are allowed to tell the players what they really think; that will bring the team back to reality.
5: Find a miracle cure for Scott Higginbotham
Michael Hooper was a Bledisloe Cup phenomenon, but elsewhere the Wallabies back-row struggled. Ben Mowen is industrious and tries, but he is no Kieran Read and the Wallabies desperately need a game-breaking No 8. The All Blacks are the masters of back-row play, but the Springboks are not that far behind and they could easily dominate in Brisbane if the Wallabies don't get their back-row sorted. At the moment, the Wallabies are well off the pace in that area.
And finally …
6: Lobby the IRB ...
McKenzie had every right to explode after Peyper's performance in Wellington, because it was sub-standard. Peyper's decision not to look at Stephen Moore's attempt at a try was diabolical, and Kieran Read is clearly a protected species in somehow avoiding a yellow card for blatant offside play in the Wallabies' quarter. Knock-ons were missed, and even All Blacks passes were called forward when they weren't. This game was another sad reminder that the number of quality international referees is slim.
Bring back Georgie Ayoub. Only joking!!
New Zealand confirmed their trans-Tasman dominance in Wellington (video available only in Australia)
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