Ewen McKenzie faces biggest coaching challenge
August 15, 2014
Ruck'n Maul: Why is Kurtley Beale at No.10?
Ewen McKenzie on Saturday night faces his biggest coaching challenge. This is the moment when the Wallabies coach will either win over the Australian public, or amplify the doubts. It has been a long time since the Australian rugby public has anticipated a Bledisloe Cup match so keenly, and, riding off New South Wales Waratahs' Super Rugby title triumph, been as confident about a rare win over the All Blacks. Wallabies supporters are renowned for their defeatist attitude. Not this week. Nonetheless, as Adam Ashley-Cooper rightfully put it a few days ago, this Test is very much win or bust. The green-and-gold hordes heading to Homebush will be anticipating rewards, and there is bound to be a backlash if it doesn't happen - especially if the Wallabies fail to both threaten and entertain. No one wants a repeat of last year's dreadful 41-16 Sydney Test loss to the British & Irish Lions, when so many Australian fans left ANZ Stadium vowing they would never again go so far to suffer so much rubbish.
Ewen McKenzie hopes to sleep easy after Saturday © Getty Images
For McKenzie, who took over from Robbie Deans shortly after that loss, this is a big value-for-money night, and at least he had made the right steps by trying something different in picking the unpredictable Kurtley Beale at No.10 and selecting Ashley-Cooper in the right position. But does McKenzie have the required tight five to frighten the All Blacks? Hmmm. How the Wallabies perform in Sydney and then back up in Auckland seven days later will allow McKenzie, a renowned insomniac and currently zero from three against the All Blacks, either to rest easy or be forced to peer at the cracks in the ceiling.
Rugby can learn a lesson from league
The Wallabies did a great job promoting the game last week with their 'Bush to Bledisloe Tour', but some media outlets haven't been enthused this week to be shut out from Australian training sessions. Footage has been minimal. Maybe they'll be let in when Wallabies ticket sales are again struggling. Fortunes quickly turn in this game, and Australian rugby is not in a position to knock back great publicity opportunities; the officials could learn a lot from rugby league, especially around State of Origin time.
That's not a streak
While the All Blacks are chasing a record-breaking 18th consecutive Test win on the weekend, they still have some way to beat the feats of another national rugby team. Cyprus currently boasts a 23-game winning streak, which is a fair effort because, as the New Zealand Herald reported during the week: "the football-mad Mediterranean island didn't even have an international rugby team until 2006. Their most successful coach was a member of the Royal Air Force who became involved after talking to someone in a pub. When the team travels abroad, they can't afford to take a physiotherapist. And, according to reports, they played their first game in poorly fitting shirts bought in, again, a pub."
Has-been bush turkey resembles a canary
As if it is not going to be hard enough working out the identity of some of the lesser lights in the National Rugby Championship, (NRC) they have decided to make it near impossible by allowing teams to wear similar jerseys. No wonder there were odd glances at the championship launch on Wednesday, when it was discovered that five of the nine sides will wear either yellow or orange jerseys. The situation hasn't been helped by budget constraints forcing teams, if they wanted away strips, to pay for them themselves. Too much of a financial risk has been placed on the teams. For a competition that wants to be user-friendly, it's not wise to have jersey confusion. In one case, it has led to a has-been bush turkey now resembling a canary.
NRC points-scoring variations worth a go
Bob Dwyer may think the changed points-scoring system in the NRC will be lead to more professional fouls, but the law variations are worth a go. The NRC will feature a system in which the value of penalty goals and field goals will be reduced from three to two points, and a conversion increased to three. If this encourages teams to cynically opt for penalties on their own line, as dropping two points is better than eight, the referees simply have to be tough and throw the guilty straight into the sin-bin; if they not, the game will become a farce. Reducing the time for setting scrums and kicks for goal is smart, as is the variation that a lineout throw does not have to be straight if the non-throwing team does not contest the ball.
Oh, Captain my Captain!
Another genius departed prematurely this week with the death of celebrated comedian Robin Williams. There was even a rugby link. When Williams met Jonah Lomu in his travels, and was struck by how huge the All Blacks winger was, he told onlookers: "Quickly! Tell the other villagers we go now."
Also sad to hear that former Wallabies half-back Eric "Nooky" Tindall died this week, aged 69.
Forget the Bledisloe Cup, it's Shute Shield grand final day
There has been angst in the ranks that the Sydney club premiership grand final - the Shute Shield decider between Eastwood and Southern Districts - will be played on the same day as the Bledisloe Cup opener. Shute Shield aficionados naturally argue that the grand final should be on its own special day.
Apparently, one high-ranking Australian Rugby Union official was aghast a few weeks ago when told of the match day clash. For some time, there was no plan for shuttle buses to take the grand final crowd from Concord Oval up the road to ANZ Stadium in time for the Bledisloe Cup kick-off. Thankfully, there has been a re-think; shuttle buses will now be running.
Tweet of the Week
Paul Jurdeczka's tweet followed our story in Ruck'n Maul last week explaining that the Waratahs, during recent contract renegotiation talks, weren't exactly huge throwing a heap of money at Michael Cheika to keep him at the province. It was more a "hands in pockets" routine. And we can only wish for another Tahs fan forum. The last one held a few years ago ranks among the most hilarious of rugby nights.
Whispers of the Week
- Fun and games after Southern Districts beat Sydney University in the Shute Shield semi-finals last weekend. We hear one Districts supporter shamed his club with an outburst after the game, but he was silenced when flattened by a notable University figure. The Districts supporter was quickly nicknamed 'Candles' - one blow and he was out.
- The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs NRL club's hopes of snaffling Israel Folau after the 2015 Rugby World Cup have become clouded due to recent interest from Sydney Roosters.
- The divide between the Waratahs team and officials continues, with several notable off-field big wigs ignored during the players' Super Rugby title celebrations. The anger over several incidents, where officials worked against the Waratahs, including when Israel Folau was forced out of the Western Force match in Perth, has not been forgotten.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
The tone was set early on in Dublin as a more clinical Ireland made England pay. All is not lost, however, argues Phil Vickery
Monday Maul takes in retirement talk, England reshuffles, France's unfair advantage and Scotland's communication breakdown
John Griffiths takes an analytical look at Week 3 of ESPN Scrum's Fantasy Rugby game - who should you have picked?
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt won the tactical battle and set his team on course for a shot at the Grand Slam. Tom Hamilton reports from Dublin