It is not fair to blame Robbie Deans for the result in Auckland at the weekend. It was the perfect storm. The World Champion All Blacks played high tempo, skillful and clever rugby. The Wallabies chose to match this with a performance riddled with so many schoolboy errors that WADA will be seeking samples from them all.
And yet, for the first 15 minutes, armed with more appropriate tactics, the Wallabies competed with this wonderful New Zealand team, showing the necessary tenacity, commitment and physicality. But errors began to flow in the 3rd minute and did not stop for the whole game, often occurring in the Wallabies own 22, gifting possession back to the All Blacks or offering Carter three points.
While the game was still there to be won in the first half, I recorded the following errors: they conceded a penalty when the ball was at the back of their own ruck in the 4th minute and 5 metres from the New Zealand line; Ashley Cooper conceded a penalty in the 5th minute for playing the ball on the ground; there were two failed 22 drop outs in the 8th and 34th minutes; Cooper missed touch with a penalty kick in the 13th minute; mindless kicks from Barnes in his own 22 in the 23rd minute and then on the All Blacks’ 22 in the 27th minute; Genia, the Captain’s yellow card in the 28th minute; lineout lost in 32nd minute; Ashley Cooper’s aimless kick to Israel Dagg when they had 14 players and needed to steady the ship with some phase play; a lost scrum against the feed in the 37th minute, and finally offside in the shadow of the posts for three points.
Eventually, this brainless play, coupled with the already fragile psyche of this squad, took its toll. The 9-0 half time score was remarkable but misleading, and after just seven minutes of the second half, it was all over at 19-0. The final 34 minutes were really just an exhibition game.
The Wallabies, played like individuals and individually, got worse.
Of particular note was Kurtley Beale who was so ineffective for a second week in a row that I can only conclude that there is something much more seriously wrong than simply a loss of form. I have watched him since he was 13 and he is a broken player. Gone are his amazing physical skills, judgment and execution. As an X factor player, I don’t expect him to deliver every time. Campese never did. But he could win games singlehandedly. Not any more.
The only encouraging part of this woeful performance was the Wallabies defence. Muggleton like, they kept the All Blacks to just one try.
Michael Hooper looked at home at this level, whose genuine foot speed is a real advantage. Stephen Moore, Digby Ioane and Nathan Sharpe tried hard. Sitaleki Timani was good while they tried to run the ball and made some big hits. Scott Higginbotham was better but nowhere near his previous form. David Dennis tried but was unable to make the yards as he did in Super Rugby.
Full credit must go to the All Blacks who played wonderful attacking rugby. They left at least three tries on the field, and whilst Sonny Bill Williams was my Man of the Match, there was not a bad player for the All Blacks.
To the future, it is clear that this generation of players cannot match this All Blacks team. This is not the first time that this group has played brainless rugby, and unless something changes, it won’t be the last.
A strategic question therefore arises: Do the Wallabies settle for being, at best, the second best team in the world, or do they give jerseys to unproven but unscarred and possibly unflawed players such as Bernard Foley, Cadern Neville, Douglas, Paddy Ryan, Lealilifano, Toomua, Mogg, Shipperley, Lachlan Mitchell, Mitch Inman, Nick Stirzaker, F’Sautia, Monahan, Godwin and the like?
This strategy clearly needs to be supported by a massive recruitment drive from the latest crop of youngsters in all codes. There is no downside – the Wallabies will still beat most other nations, and the upside is that it our best chance to beat the All Blacks.
The definition of stupidity is repeating something and expecting a different outcome. Giving youngsters a chance is also the best reality check that the current players can get – they will either step up or step away. Now is the time to be bold. There are three years before the next Rugby World Cup and it is all about winning.
While the weekend’s brainless performance had nothing to do with Robbie Deans, he is no longer the best man for the job. Last night exposed the need for a major rethink, overhaul and recruitment drive, and I think Jake White and his subtle proven player development and motivational skills, should be hired immediately. After all, coaching the Wallabies is the second best rugby coaching job in the world and he already has his work permit.
By Mike Burden