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Ewen McKenzie must axe underperforming Wallabies

Missing: Benn Robinson.

Missing: Benn Robinson. Photo: AFP

If the All Blacks had lost at Eden Park by a record score, would their coach Steve Hansen have responded this way to the challenge of facing the Springboks next week at Perth: "We can't hide from the result … we need to get back in the saddle … It's a different team … a different challenge … There are some positives and a couple of new faces. It's all good."

That was Ewen McKenzie's reaction to the 51-20 thumping the Wallabies suffered against the All Blacks last week. Sorry coach but it's not "all good" for the Wallabies right now. It's all black, as in woeful, unacceptable and changes need to be made in every aspect of the Wallabies enterprise, on and off the field.

There has been constant speculation about the reasons for the incredible winning record of the All Blacks since 1903. Up to 2007, the team had won 75 per cent of its Tests. Since then, under Graham Henry and now Hansen, that winning ratio has moved to 86 per cent. To my mind, the main reason for this success has been the culture of humility and a determination to learn from defeats. 

A sign of the humility is that the senior players clean up the dressing rooms after Tests. They take responsibility for successes and failures. A record loss would have been followed by an intense and honest review of what had gone wrong. There would have been no "it's all good" nonsense. 

Years ago I attended a rugby lunch before a Bledisloe Cup Test. David Campese told the audience he resented the occasional criticism of his play. In my opinion, Campese was one of the greatest players in the history of rugby. But he was wrong about the negative power of criticism. And Grant Fox, a match winner as a player and now an All Blacks selector, told the audience why. He said the All Blacks embraced criticism. 

A willingness to be as ruthless with themselves as they were with their opponents is a key reason for the success of the All Blacks.

It was obvious at Eden Park that the Wallabies were smashed in the scrums, in the lineout drives, and in the ruck collisions. Where was the honest acknowledgment of this? Without acknowledging the problem, how can it be fixed? The squad to play the Springboks retains all the usual suspects who performed so poorly at Eden Park. Tatafu Polota-Nau has been brought back to replace the injured Nathan Charles. But he won't be considered for the Perth Test. Where is Benn Robinson? The Waratahs prop anchored a scrum that competed well against the All Blacks-studded Crusaders pack. Somehow, at a time when the Wallabies pack is a shambles, the best scrumming prop in Australian rugby is not wanted.

In the two Bledisloe Cup Tests, the All Blacks played 33 minutes with 14 men. The score during this time was 10-9 to the All Blacks. Six of the nine Wallabies points came from penalties kicked from the yellow cards. When the All Blacks had 15 men against 14 Wallabies, following a yellow card (totally unwarranted) against Rob Simmons, the score was 14-0 in their favour. When both sides played 15 on 15, the Wallabies lost 39-23. 

If this had happened the other way around, do you think Hansen would have said it was "all good"?

The main ball carriers for the Wallabies at Eden Park were James Slipper (11), Israel Folau (10) and Kurtley Beale (8). The metres-gained category was dominated by Folau (150 metres), with Rob Horne and Beale on 25m each. The Beale at No.10 experiment must be over. I like Bob Dwyer's idea of playing Beale on the wing, in a sort of Shane Williams role. But where does this leave the underperforming Matt Toomua?

McKenzie must swing the axe ruthlessly in his selections for the Test against the Springboks to regain his credibility.

50 comments so far

  • How often are the Wallaby Forwards outdoing opponents of quality nations? It seems to be a consistent problem.

    Commenter
    meatatarian
    Date and time
    August 29, 2014, 7:36PM
    • Exactly meatatarian and well said Spiro! Australia gets caught up in the backs, who is no. 10, playing running rugby, and 'X-factor'. These are important, BUT every great team in history has been due to a dominant forward pack and team defense. NZ kick more than any team, and are the most exciting to watch & the most successful team (it breaks my heart to say this, cause I love nothing more than the Wallabies). We have the backs to beat anyone. And we have several options in the backs to do so, but they need to be going forward to do so, and have the clean out support at the rucks. We just dont have the troops up front. Anyone who has actually played the game knows this. We need help with 1-8. This is why Cheika has been successful. He built a squad that intimidation, or atleast the best he could do in Aus with one import. Come on Wallabies! Learn to turn up every week!

      Commenter
      Go Wallabies!
      Date and time
      August 30, 2014, 4:33PM
    • Only time wallaby forwards put in half decent shift is when they are beefed up by Argentinian imports.

      Commenter
      Tom Callaghan
      Location
      London
      Date and time
      September 01, 2014, 7:56AM
  • true meatatarian...and methinks it will continue to be the case, until the powers that be make a concerted effort to get the game out of the private schools and into the public system...

    Commenter
    gregars
    Date and time
    August 29, 2014, 8:36PM
    • @ gregars
      We are kept in the dark by the ARU (deliberately?) about their efforts to promote rugby in public schools. Surely in the great population of Sydney's west and in Brisbane there must be many schools with talented players who are waiting for the school visit from a rugby development officer. My son could have ended up playing NRL, AFL or soccer but thanks to a development officer from Randwick Rugby Club visiting my son's school when he was 6, my son chose rugby and hasn't looked back. Can the ARU be more open about its policy re promoting rugby in public schools? God knows we need these potential rugby league players in our code.

      Commenter
      Old Hickory
      Location
      Maroubra
      Date and time
      August 30, 2014, 12:15PM
    • The private schools have nothing to do with it. Our whole rugby culture doesn't respect scrummaging.

      We ask our most promising tight head prop to play loose head half the year in super rugby(Alexander), Cheika placed minimal emphasis on the scrum and didn't start Kepu for the first 2 months of the season, and now even the old prop Mckenzie didn't learn his lesson from last year and left out Robinson.

      Commenter
      Mortal Wombat
      Date and time
      August 30, 2014, 8:21PM
  • Spiro... I don't think Link needs to be 'ruthless' but just more astute in searching for better selection to suit the Wallaby game. To be frank, the result from last w'end's game was deplorable. Unacceptable in it's manner.
    In essence, the Wallaby failed to turn-up, physically and mentally.
    And against a side as good as this AB team is, this was unforgiveable. Why ?
    Because there are certain selections within the Wallaby squad that don't make any sense. For instance... why would you select KB at 5/8 when Foley is the form 5/8 ? One has played there all season, and the other hasn't. It's such a critical position to the overall performance of the team. This is regardless of forwards going forward or not. So why risk a change that wasn't warranted ?
    Maybe to unsettle the ABs game-plan ? Or more insidious... conspiracry theories ?
    Humbug.... the only thing it unsettled was the Wallaby team.
    Listen, all we heard from the ABs' camp prior to this game was a mantra of 'back to basics'... and Link should heed this call. Select players in their rightful positions... can't get any worse than what's gone down already.
    Horan made a comment which puts things into perspective... NO TEAM on the planet would've beaten the AB last w'end... so instead of ruthlessness, let's suck it up... and make the RIGHT selections.
    If this doesn't deliver then bring-in the firing squad... players and coach, both with ruthless abandon !

    @ gregars

    How... and what does your comment have to do with the reality of grass-roots school Rugby ? It's NOT solely a private school game anymore... at the very least back it up with some facts !

    Commenter
    Machooka
    Location
    inner west sydney
    Date and time
    August 29, 2014, 9:25PM
    • Machooka, I never stated it was "solely a private school game"?
      Peruse the make-up of last years Australian Schoolboys and Australian A Schoolboys teams, that should give you an idea of "the reality of grass-roots school. Here's the link: rugby".www.rugby.com.au/News/NewsArticle/tabid/1699/ArticleID/10333/Australian-Schools-teams-named-for-final-matches-against-New-Zealand-and-Fiji.aspx

      Commenter
      gregars
      Date and time
      August 29, 2014, 11:17PM
    • @ Machooka. "but just more astute in searching for better selection to suit the Wallaby game"

      Mate could you remind us what "the Wallaby game" is. And in doing so try not to mention the crap about an entertaining running game as though the Wallabies somehow invented the concept. Pulver fell for that rubbish, did you?.

      Commenter
      Pulver was sold a pup.
      Date and time
      August 30, 2014, 1:11AM
    • Didn't go to a private school myself but I get a bit tired of knowalls saying that having players with a private school background matters. I don't care where they went to school. A lot of Australia's top athletes come from private schools. More public school kids playing rugby would be great and would widen the pool to pick from. That is all. Two world cups show that where the players come from couldn't be too bad. Coming from Blacktown or Mount Druitt doesn't give any automatic extra guts or ability to a rugby player. The problem stems from what criteria players are picked from. Look for gritty tough players rather than flash Harry's. Slipper did eleven hitups, great, but the scrum got destroyed. Beale? Definitely not a gritty gutsy type of player and the same goes for his mates Quade and O'Connor. Flash Harry's? Simmons? Does anyone truly believe brining back Horwill will solve any problems? Try going right back and wonder what criteria was used to determine why Giteau was a better choice for the crucial inside centre position than Nathan Grey. This was the beginning of the Wallabies losing their way and getting caught up in Eddie Jones mumbo jumbo talk about executing strategies and game plans instead of a simple understanding that a physical game requires you to win the physical contest to implement any strategies worth thinking about.

      Commenter
      Carl
      Date and time
      August 30, 2014, 3:13AM

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