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Not perfect, but Wallabies show signs of improvement

Date

John Eales

In Australian sport there are a few coaches who transcend their codes. Wayne Bennett is one, Rod Macqueen another, Ric Charlesworth actually moved between codes, and in AFL, Kevin Sheedy fits the bill. Sheedy's stature was the most obvious reason the AFL seconded him as the inaugural coach of the GWS Giants this year, a team ambitiously planted in the heartland of rugby league.

Sheedy is an enigma, albeit a thoughtful enigma. Some years ago he reflected with me that he had lost more matches as a coach than any other coach in the AFL. Not one of the most obvious boasts you would think, until you realise that he has coached more matches than any other coach in the AFL. (656 matches: 388 wins, 262 losses, six draws, for those numbers folk among us.)

But it wasn't the number of losses that was relevant in his boast, it was how he dealt with them that counted. "I've driven home a loser more than any other coach, but I've driven home a loser going somewhere," he said. "Some people drive home a loser going nowhere."

The flight home after their 22-0 loss to the All Blacks and the following two weeks in purgatory have driven the Wallabies to a better place. In a kind of absolution, the pain of the past fortnight was washed away with passion in a 26-19 victory against an equally robust and desperate Springboks opposition.

It may not be nirvana just yet as they didn't eradicate much of their popgun kicking but in a heartening display their play was infused with much clearer structure and purpose.

Granted, the Boks don't pose the same threat as the All Blacks at the moment. But they remain a formidable rugby nation so the Wallabies' current six from seven run of Test victories against them is impressive.

More impressive was the manner of this victory, coming back from a 10-point deficit and holding on desperately to contain the final green onslaughts.

The performance may have been more relieving than perfect, but it demonstrated character which, due to the latest bulletin on the injury front, is timely.

The loss of Will Genia for six or more months to a knee injury is a particularly bitter pill. While aspirants will often lift themselves and grasp their opportunity, replacing Genia – the stand-in captain – is not just a matter of teaching someone else to toss a coin. Genia is central to the heart, soul and conscience of this Wallabies team, and his resilience has ensured that they haven't had to do without him for some time.

One postscript to his absence is that it may provide the opportunity for Nathan Sharpe to step up as Wallaby captain once again, a fitting responsibility for a man who continues to perform so consistently in his final handful of games.

And leadership may be the biggest challenge for the Wallabies next week. At the beginning of this season we were excited by the calibre and attitude of leaders such as James Horwill, David Pocock and Will Genia. Now all three are on an expanding long-term injury list as the team prepares without them for the Argentina Pumas on the Gold Coast later this week.

This will be a massive test and in some ways more difficult than the Boks because expectations will be so high. The Pumas play a simple spoiling game but, as the Boks and the All Blacks have found, simple does not equate to easily overcome. The All Blacks may have won 21-5 but every point was hard-earned and mostly earned quite late in the piece after a Puma sin-binning.

The Pumas have a draw with South Africa under their belt so the Wallabies will be determined they don't become their first scalp. If the men in gold replicate Saturday's physicality and direct, accurate phase play, it will create the necessary space behind the Pumas defensive line and hopefully avoid one of those uncomfortable car journeys home.

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Rugby Internationals 2014

Round 1
Sat, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 18 vs TGA 18 Report Stats
FJI 25 vs ITA 14 Report Stats
NZL 20 vs ENG 15 Report Stats
AUS 50 vs FRA 23 Report Stats
Sun, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 47 vs WXV 13 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 29 Report Stats
USA 6 vs SCO 24 Report Stats
CAN 25 vs JPN 34 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Sat, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 15 vs ITA Report Stats
FJI 45 vs TGA 17 Report Stats
NZL 28 vs ENG 27 Report Stats
AUS 6 vs FRA Report Stats
Sun, 15 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 38 vs WAL 16 Report Stats
CAN 17 vs SCO 19 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 23 Report Stats
USA 29 vs JPN 37 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Sat, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
ARG 19 vs SCO 21 Report Stats
FJI 13 vs SAM 18 Report Stats
JPN 26 vs ITA 23 Report Stats
AUS 39 vs FRA 13 Stats
NZL 36 vs ENG 13 Report Stats
Sun, 22 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 31 vs WAL 30 Report Stats
USA 38 vs CAN 35 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Sun, 29 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 55 vs SCO 6 Report Stats
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Round 5
Sun, 02 NovTimes shown AEDT
BAR 36 vs AUS 40 Report Stats
USA 6 vs NZL 74 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Sun, 09 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 24 vs SAM 13 Report Stats
ENG 21 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
WAL 28 vs AUS 33 Report Stats
FRA 40 vs FJI 14 Report Stats
IRE 29 vs RSA 15 Report Stats
SCO 41 vs ARG 31 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Sun, 16 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 18 vs ARG 20 Report Stats
ENG 28 vs RSA 31 Report Stats
WAL 17 vs FJI 13 Report Stats
SCO 16 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
FRA 29 vs AUS 26 Report Stats
Mon, 17 NovTimes shown AEDT
IRE 49 vs GEO 7 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Sun, 23 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 6 vs RSA 22 Report Stats
SCO 37 vs TGA 12 Report Stats
IRE 26 vs AUS 23 Report Stats
WAL 16 vs NZL 34 Report Stats
ENG 28 vs SAM 9 Report Stats
FRA 13 vs ARG 18 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Sun, 30 NovTimes shown AEDT
ENG 26 vs AUS 17 Report Stats
WAL 12 vs RSA 6 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
 
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