Different strategy needed against All Blacks
Wallabies down Pumas in Rosario
Australian Wallabies' prop Ben Alexander (R) celebrates after defeating Argentina's Los Pumas. Photo: AFP
There were two really important victories for Australian rugby over the weekend, both cliffhangers. The first occurred in Auckland, where the Australian Schoolboys, in a composed and expansive display, came from behind to beat the New Zealand Schoolboys for the second year running.
In the second, a scrappy but determined Wallabies surmounted injured bodies to beat the Pumas 25-19 in Rosario, Argentina, completing the inaugural Rugby Championship with a credible three victories and second place.
Although compromised by available stock, the Wallaby selectors made a couple of big statements in their selection for this match. One was selecting Kurtley Beale at fly-half and Mike Harris out of position at fullback. While Beale was very strong at 10, it was difficult to determine how successful Harris was in the 15 jersey, but he was accurate as ever with the boot and that in the end was the difference.
The other remarkable selection was naming 203 centimetre, 120 kilogram lock Sitaleki Timani in the back row when specialists Scott Higginbotham and David Dennis were also available for selection.
The argument for selecting the heaviest and one of the tallest Wallaby packs ever revolved around physical presence and freeing Timani up for his damaging, wrecking-ball runs out wide. The arguments against were focused on mobility, or lack thereof.
In the end it became somewhat of a moot point when Higginbotham replaced Kane Douglas in the ninth minute due to concussion.
There is a natural prejudice to select taller people in various walks of life; it's often termed "heightism". A survey of male Fortune 500 chief executives in 2005 revealed they were, on average, 6.4 centimetres taller than the average American male. Further, 30 per cent were at least 1.88 centimetres tall, where only 3.9 per cent of the overall US population was that height.
Of course, there is no evidence to suggest a causal relationship between height and capability to lead, yet that bias exists. Successful and popular political leaders like John Howard and Bob Hawke may have never led our nation if electors had got out the tape measure.
Now there is no question that in rugby, when variables such as mobility, capability and commitment are equal, you generally take the bigger man over the smaller guy for the natural advantage in responsibilities like lineout jumping or lifting, but bigger is not always better.
Take it from me, sometimes it is a downright disadvantage; air flights in economy class and buying a shirt off the rack tailored under the assumption that sleeve length increases proportionally with neck, chest and stomach measurements are a couple of examples.
Due to Douglas's injury we cannot determine Timani's effectiveness as a loose forward at this level but there is risk in using that same combination against the All Blacks in Brisbane in two weeks' time when a high work rate, combined with superior ground skills and mobility, will be what is required to thwart the All Blacks.
In saying that, Timani has very quickly implanted himself as an important member of this team, stepping up his consistency and impact and therefore usefulness. He is now using his considerable mass to great effect in both defence and attack and I would think he will only get better.
Of most concern for the Wallabies throughout this series was their inability to maintain pressure for long periods and subsequently turn pressure into tries. In the six matches they scored seven tries, the same as the Pumas and, incredibly, the Springboks' Bryan Habana!
Handling errors for both teams in this match were alarming. High balls were spilt under little pressure and what seemed like simple passes were continually put down.
Success comes more from the culmination of pressure mounted by excellent execution of basic skills than through the brilliant play of individuals.
When combined with brilliant play by individuals you have the All Blacks, who won their 16th Test on the trot to complete the championship undefeated.
In Brisbane on October 20 against the Wallabies they will attempt to equal the world record for major rugby nations of 17 consecutive test victories (Lithuania secured 18 consecutive Test victories but none against top-tier rugby nations), so there's significant motivation for the Wallabies to end the domestic season with a win.