From the pen of Spiro Davos @ rugbyheaven.com
“WE’RE going to lose, we’re going to lose,” a journalist in the press box wailed as Daniel Carter lined up his final and decisive penalty kick at the end of a dramatic Test at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
Amid a wind storm of home-crowd noise, Carter duly kicked the penalty. The Wallabies failed to drop kick a goal after the final whistle, even though Matt Giteau could have thrown the ball over the bar. Why wasn’t the call made? Too much physical and mental tiredness, perhaps?
And, once again, the Wallabies had snatched a defeat from the jaws of victory.
What is going on here with the Wallabies? They get strong leads against the All Blacks and the Springboks. But, slowly and surely, the lead is overtaken by their relentless opponents who roll forward in surges of energy that the fading Wallabies just cannot seem to contain. In the second half, the All Blacks had something like 80 per cent of possession and field position. The Wallabies played like a team whose batteries had run down.
This is not a new condition for the team. Greg Clarke, in his call of the Test on Fox Sports, pointed out that in the past five Tests against the All Blacks the Wallabies have conceded 74 points to 23 in the second half of play. On Saturday night, they were leading 12-3 at half-time. As a general rule in Tests, the team that is in front at half-time will get up and win the match. Why are the Wallabies defying this general rule?
In my view, the players are not as fit as New Zealand and South Africa. On Saturday night, the All Blacks substituted only two forwards and two backs (both injured). Brad Thorn said he felt like a “walking carcass” after the Test. But it was a carcass that made his tackles, hit the rucks and mauls hard, took the ball up and chased purposefully on defence right to the final whistle. The Wallabies forwards, except for Benn Robinson and Rocky Elsom, just do not seem to have the same hard-bodied commitment to a work rate that does not flag as the match progresses.
The fault lies with the Australian Super rugby coaches who (and I expect a blast from RUPA for saying this) are far too lenient and tolerant of player power. When Rod Macqueen took over the Wallabies he identified a lack of fitness and general sense of too much player entitlement in the Australian squad. The players were inclined to be lazy in mind and body, and this translated to sloppy and losing play on the field. Sound familiar? He hired a fitness coach, Steve Nance, from the Brisbane Broncos. Nance had the players vomiting after his first training sessions. In time Macqueen’s squad was the fittest in world rugby.
The fitness and the capacity to make good decisions under pressure paid off. Macqueen’s Wallabies won the 1999 Rugby World Cup with 13 players from a side that had conceded more than 60 points to the Springboks two years earlier.
They won the Bledisloe Cup from the All Blacks, and retained it with last-minute victories. In 2000 John Eales kicked a penalty late into injury time to give the Wallabies a 24-23 victory. In 2001 Toutai Kefu scored a try on time to give the Wallabies a 29-26 victory in Sydney. Then in 2002, again in injury time, Matt Burke kicked a penalty to give the Wallabies a 16-14 triumph.
Next year’s campaign to win the Tri Nations must start with a Nance-type regime to make the Wallabies fit enough. If the Super coaches won’t do this, then Robbie Deans has to.