Wallabies look to show more than 'evolvement'
November 29, 2013
Greg Growden previews the final Test of the Wallabies' season against Wales
Warren Gatland is no mug. He was widely castigated for ignoring Brian O'Driscoll for the final Test of the British & Irish Lions series against the Wallabies, but his daring move was the right decision. Picking O'Driscoll for sentimental reasons would have been so easy. But Gatland realised that a one-time attacking luminary was on the way out, and for a series decider it was time for a far more formidable Lions midfield. Not surprisingly the Wallabies were swept away by the Lions' power game, and abracadabra Gatland was again the master coach.
Now back in his Wales tracksuit, Gatland is trying again to play with Wallabies minds in a bid to hoodwink them before the final Test of their European tour. Gatland, like fellow New Zealander Steve Hansen, understands the value of a sneaky barb, and so he has thrown out the suggestion that the Wallabies stagnated under Robbie Deans and, while they have found some recent rhythm under Ewen McKenzie, they are yet to convince all they are now a better side. The tenor of Gatland's comments is the Wallabies are all right, but still hardly earth shattering; they are simply "evolving".
Gatland knows McKenzie, who, unlike his predecessor, Deans, doesn't mind an off-field scrap; Link will bite, react and use his comments to stir up his players, who are still somewhat unsettled from what occurred in Dublin. To say they are one happy band of tourists is really pushing it a bit, with several players still deeply miffed about how they were singled out following a late night in Dublin. The scars will take some time to heal.
Has Warren Gatland spoken out because he recognises Australia do not rate Scott Williams anything like Jamie Roberts in the No.12 jumper © Getty Images
So at a time when the Wallabies want to show they are again steady, Gatland has loosened a couple of floorboards for them to negotiate; he knows an unstable team can easily be distracted.
At least the Wallabies have the chance to show whether Gatland's public utterances are phooey or legitimate. The Wales Test will indicate exactly where the Wallabies stand, if they have actually made some improvement over the last month, or whether they remain well short of the big two - the All Blacks and Springboks.
The Wales encounter represents a dramatic step up from what they have encountered over the last four weeks: England were poor and got away with it, due to the Wallabies being inept; Italy were irritating, but lacked class; Ireland were way off their best; and Scotland are just a bunch of scrappers. The quality of opposition the Wallabies have encountered so far on this tour has been only fair to middling.
But Wales are different. Even though they will not be fielding their strongest team, they still have a pugnacious line-up, including an assortment of quality Lions representatives who know something about how to overhaul the Wallabies.
We may be raving about Israel Folau, but Wales have a fair comparison at fullback in Leigh Halfpenny. George North is a top-shelf winger, and the back-row of Toby Faletau, Sam Warburton and Dan Lydiate, with Justin Tipuric hovering on the bench, could easily overhaul a big-talking but often short-on-nous Wallabies forward contingent. The Welsh back-row is without doubt the most dangerous combination the Wallabies have encountered in Europe.
If the Wallabies are to beat Wales, they will have to come up with something special.
At least McKenzie has made the right choices at the selection table. The team to play Wales looks settled, with Adam Ashley-Cooper and Nick Cummins returning to the starting line-up. Ashley-Cooper is in his best position - No.13 - while Cummins will give the Wallabies a bit of looniness out wide, something they really need.
Maybe, the Wallabies will be able to go on a "we showed those critics" rant after claiming their fourth successive Test victory. But it won't be easy. They are up against a crafty opposition and a very shrewd coach. Worse teams, even on this tour, have beaten the Wallabies.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
"The thirst for knowledge has seen coaches break away from the confines of rugby and look to America." Tom Hamilton on the two-way learning process
On Saturday, New Zealand face the USA in a match that has been 40 years in the making. Tom Hamilton finds the atmosphere building in Chicago
Most modern rugby players will not know the name Ray Williams but they should be eternally grateful to him, writes John Taylor
With the All Blacks playing the USA Eagles this weekend, Craig Dowd says rugby is ready to make a professional breakthrough Stateside