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Australian Rugby
Light at the end of the tunnel
ESPN Staff
October 8, 2012
Australia's Nathan Sharpe is well-supported as he goes up to win a line-out, Argentina v Australia, Rugby Championship, Gigante de Arroyito, Rosario, Argentina, October 6, 2012.
The presence and performance of Nathan Sharpe was a huge positive for the Wallabies © Getty Images
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"It was one of the great victories for a patched up Wallabies side." These were the words of respected commentator and former player Greg Martin after Australia's 25-19 win over Argentina which secured second place in the inaugural Rugby Championship. It was maybe a little over the top but we commentators are prone to exaggerate and Marto does get excited.

The opening season of the Rugby Championship - sponsored by four different companies, in four countries - was a resounding yawn. It was a far cry from the 'whip 'em in, whip 'em out' style of the Tri Nations, which it replaced this year.

For the Wallabies, it was a case of six games, which produced three wins and three losses. It was probably a couple more than a few of us, including me thought they would get, after the less than impressive opening against the All Blacks, but credit where its due to this younger brigade of Wallabies. They played some good rugby towards the end, save the match in South Africa where they got hammered by the Springboks. In fact, Australia are realistically still the Tri-Nations champions (if we don't invite New Zealand to compete).

But the question on everyone's lips is, will this performance be enough to save coach Robbie Deans? Well judging by his reaction and that of the assistant coaches during the game then no.

Deans and his brethren were lacking emotion during the game - it was as if his fate was already sealed but the word on the street corner where the high end of town walks is that he is indeed safe. Not because of the outstanding year the Wallabies haven't had, but for the fact they can't afford to get rid of him. John O'Neill, the Australian Rugby Union CEO, openly said during the tournament that the 'dogs were circling' and with 12 minutes to go on the Gold Coast during their game against Argentina, he was gone. But they found a couple of tries, won the game and the dogs went back into their kennels again.

Last week when the Wallabies lost to South Africa, most of the country didn't care - the Sydney Swans won the AFL and Melbourne Storm took the NRL so it was the biggest weekend of the year in sport. Who cares if the Wallabies lost?

Deans' time is going to be up soon but the question is when? Ewen Mackenzie is patiently waiting in the wings. He hasn't got a team to coach and must've been told something otherwise why would he have stepped aside?

And when he does takeover, watch for an immediate turnaround in the Wallabies' fortunes because even someone like me, who never played a Test for anyone, can see there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

There is plenty to get excited about moving forward and maybe the best thing to get excited about is the fact a certain person isn't likely to be going with them. Quade Cooper's Twitter dummy spit in the middle of the tournament gave officials some much needed spine to fire back at his comment's and basically say, if you don't like it go away. It also gave the rest of the squad enough gumption to show that life isn't always about Quade and who he is dating, or twittering or whatever.

But that's enough about Quade, in fact for me that's about five lines too many on QC so let's talk about the Wallabies and the positives to come out of 2012.

Kurtley Beale should now have his name stencilled on the back of the No.10 jersey because he has it now for as long as he wants. He seems safe, secure and showing poise which was lacking when he wore the fullback shirt. Young flanker Michael Hooper backed up his previous performance in South Africa with another outstanding effort against Argentina - his 60-metre dash down field after grabbing an opposition lineout throw on the Wallabies' line in the second-half was a moment to cherish in a match that didn't produce a lot.

Nick Cummins was near mistake-free and more importantly his nickname 'The Honey Badger' is something legends are made of. Nick Phipps is now a terrific backup for a fit Will Genia at halfback, while young fullback Mike Harris proved himself again. Ben Tapuai, Digby Ioane, Pat McCabe all contributed while the forwards held their own against the Pumas in the less than friendly environment of the Estadio Gigante de Arroyito. Nathan Sharpe continues to perform and it was a deserving result in a historic match which saw him break George Smith's record as the most capped Australian forward (111 Tests) but I'm positive I was at his retirement announcement once before...or was it twice?

Australia's Kurtley Beale is felled by the Argentina defence, Argentina v Australia, Rugby Championship, Gigante de Arroyito, Rosario, Argentina., October 6, 2012
Kurtley Beale should stay at fly-half, according to Russell Barwick © Getty Images
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So there you go, positives galore to talk about and not once did I mention Twitter or the twit that uses it too much.

In all 38 players wore the Australian gold jumper this year and 11 were debutants. Definitely a rebuilding year but at the same time the World Cup-winning All Blacks extended their unbeaten streak to 16 games, one shy of the world record and clearly the best team on the planet.

Australia and South Africa are two and three but let's face it if me, you and Usain Bolt were running 100 metres, you and I could also call ourselves second and third.

Away from the field, there are issues the game needs to address: the crowds were down, TV ratings were awful and off the back of a poor Super Rugby season for Australian franchises, this could've been the worse year for rugby for some time.

But despite all the gloom and doom and predictions of the wheels falling off I still believe all is not lost for the leather patch brigade and so I've come up with a Top 5 for 2012.

1. We won the Tri Nations (if we don't count NZ)
2. We let 11 new guys play for Australia.
3. We were unbeaten on the Gold Coast
4. Nathan Sharpe is still playing
5. Quade Cooper is gone
(If you want a Top 10, repeat No.5 another five times)

So yes, believe it or not there is some light at the end of the tunnel for Australian rugby, but perhaps the only bloke who won't be smiling is the train driver.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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