Feeding the fire ... France contain the Wallabies in Paris. Photo: Getty Images
THE tendency of the Wallabies to lose Tests after some convincing performances is driving fans mad. A poll this week on Rugby Heaven showed that 75 per cent of 12,000 voters supported David Campese's trenchant call for the sacking of coach Robbie Deans. A thrashing by France fired up the Campese attack and the fans' support. The Test before this debacle, the Wallabies drew with an All Blacks side that had won 16 straight.
The Test season started with the Wallabies coming off a third-place in last year's World Cup, playing an unfancied Scotland side. On a freezing night at Newcastle, in driving rain, the Wallabies gave up a penalty on time from a scrum collapse. The penalty kick was successful. The Scotland Test had been pencilled in as a certain Wallabies victory. The unexpected loss changed the dynamics of the season. The pressure was relieved somewhat with three successive victories over the Six Nations champions, Wales. The clean sweep of the series was clinched with a penalty kick right on time, a reverse of the Scotland outcome.
The season was saved. Perhaps not. Two successive defeats to the All Blacks followed. The second at Eden Park had the Wallabies scoreless for the first time in 40 years. The ''Woeful Wallabies'' tag was revived. There was a temporary salvation with victories over the Springboks and the Pumas at home. Disaster struck again with an emphatic loss to the Springboks in South Africa. And then salvation, once again, came with a victory against the Pumas in Argentina and the draw against the All Blacks at Brisbane.
But the Wallabies, after their defeat at Paris, are once again like Pauline in the kids' serial tied to the railway tracks and a train in the form of a confident England side is relentlessly pushing on towards them on Sunday night.
My predecessor on this rugby column, Evan Whitton, arguably the most gifted journalist of his generation, always insisted: ''If you get the narrative right, you'll get the story right.''
The narrative of this Perils of Pauline season of the Wallabies coincides with the success and failure of the scrum. When the scrum works, the Wallabies win. When it fails, the Wallabies lose.
This is the historical pattern for the Wallabies. The only time in the professional era when the Wallabies have consistently won most of their Tests was when Rod Macqueen was coach. His Wallabies had strong props and pushing second-rowers, an aspect of John Eales's game that has been underrated.
One of the keys to the All Blacks' consistency in recent years has been the development of a specific pushing second-rower and Brad Thorn has been the standout. There is comfort (hopefully) for Wallabies supporters in Sitaleki Timani's comments that ''a big thing for me is … to make a difference in the scrum.'' The message from the big second-rower is that great srummaging involves more than grunt from the front row. Andrew Blades, the Wallabies scrum guru, made the point, too, that against France, the Wallabies forwards were too keen to get involved with the next phase of play rather than pushing. This allowed France to milk penalties by holding the ball in the scrum. The Wallabies have to be prepared for England to work the same ploy.
Under the new engagement mantra of ''crouch, touch, set'' there have been fewer collapses and more real scrum contests. England, a team with a scrummaging obsession, will fancy their chances of destroying the Wallabies' scrum and the team's prospects of victory. The Wallabies have shown this season they can scrum well. So if England's momentum is stopped, with one bound the Wallabies can leap free to record a splendid victory. That, anyway, is the Australian version of how this week's episode of The Perils of Pauline should unfold.