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.