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Mr Carlton, please note: the Wallabies are not the Waratahs


Spiro Zavos

Vocal behind the scenes ... John Connolly.

Vocal behind the scenes ... John Connolly. Photo: Tim Clayton

READERS of last Saturday's Herald might have been surprised to find in the news section of the paper a self-described ''traitorous'' rugby opinion piece by Mike Carlton. He put the boot in early by stating that he was ''thrilled to bits that Scotland beat Australia at Newcastle''. Then he launched a huge bomb by stating he wanted Wales to ''thrash'' the Wallabies that night in Brisbane. The justification offered for these sentiments was that ''Australian rugby is in deep crisis at every level, national and state … It's viral, possibly terminal … The Waratahs are the worst …''

And the Carlton answer to the crisis? Nothing less than a ''blood-soaked revolution … on and off the field, from top to bottom. Heads must roll.''

Most of this critique is based on an attack on the ARU by the former Wallabies coach John Connolly. Connolly is demanding a full review of the ARU if the Wallabies lose this three-Test series against Wales.

We need to understand some rugby politics here. Connolly was deposed as Wallabies coach when the chief executive of the ARU, John O'Neill, came back for a second term in 2008.

O'Neill promoted Robbie Deans to Connolly's job. Since then, Connolly and other reasonably influential dissidents, publicly and behind the scenes, have been trying to get rid of O'Neill. They have often attacked Deans's record and his appointment as a way of undermining O'Neill.

O'Neill explained last week that the Connolly/Carlton line that everything in Australian rugby is rooned is ''not supported by fact-based evidence''. And he makes a convincing case. There has been a 25 per cent increase in playing numbers throughout Australia. Television ratings are at record highs. The Queensland Reds won last season's Super Rugby tournament. They have more than 30,000 members and are playing before large crowds at Suncorp Stadium. The Wallabies won the 2011 Tri Nations tournament. They are the No.2 team in the world rankings. Last year they defeated the Springboks in three successive Tests, an achievement without parallel in their history.

These facts suggest that the claim that ''Australian rugby is in deep crisis at every level, national and state'' is hyperbole, to put it mildly. Carlton was right, however, to attack the Waratahs franchise. It does have ''one foot in the grave'' with the other foot ''kicking the ball away to lose possession''. It is letting its supporters and Australian rugby down. And there needs to be a cleanout at the franchise.

But the Wallabies are not the Waratahs. Moreover, when Waratahs players step up to the Wallabies their game improves and they become winners rather than losers.

There were seven Waratahs in the Wallabies run-on team last weekend. The all-Waratahs front row held its own with a strong Welsh front three. Adam Ashley-Cooper, who has been ineffective with the Waratahs, was in great running and catching form for the Wallabies. Even Berrick Barnes, rightly criticised for kicking too much for the Waratahs, ran and passed effectively. He did kick the ball away once inside the Wales 22, which (rightly) incurred the criticism of Rod Kafer. Old habits die hard. But, in general, Barnes did a good job organising a rolling series of Wallabies ball-in-hand attacks that Wales found hard to cope with.

Sam Warburton, the impressive, young captain of Wales, said the pace of the Wallabies game in the first 40 minutes of the Test was too fast for Wales to keep up with. Many experts, especially those from Britain, had believed that Wales had too much speed and size for the Wallabies to hold. But, in the end, the Six Nations champions were comfortably defeated.

The beauty of the three-Test format is that both teams have a chance to regroup and rethink their tactics. Wales, for instance, are expected to kick for field position a lot more tonight in the Test at Melbourne. If this is the case, it is a concession that the most skilful team in Europe cannot trust itself to match its skills with the Wallabies.

It also provides a coaching challenge for Deans to set up the systems for counter-attack to exploit the possession that Wales might kick away.

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6 comments so far

  • The problem with the Wallabies is not the skills. It is depth and consistent forward aggression. The Waratahs playing better in the test than in super does not surprise. New South Welshman usually play better for Australia than their state.

    Date and time
    June 16, 2012, 2:03PM
    • I'd agree with you in relation to forward aggression, but I'd disagree in terms of depth. Which other team could field it's 5th choice fly half (behind Cooper, Beale, O'Connor, Leafano (sp?) and some would argue Holmes) and still be competitive against the best team from the Northern Hemisphere. We have at least 6 quality locks, we now have numerous choices in the back row including 3 world class pillagers. We've managed to cover the losses of Turner and Mitchell and then Tomane on the wings without a problem, AAC is playing well at the back - he's no Chris Latham, but he is safe. And with the rise of Dan Palmer - we have two interchangeable front rows (Warratahs and Brumbies front three). The way I see it is that the only area we're challenged with is our centres - and the only reason that shows up is because we were so blessed with Little and Horan and then Mortlock for so many years. Centre is not a position for a simple straight runner (e.g McCabe and Horne), or a creative kicker (Barnes and O'Connor) - you need to be able to see the opportunities outside you, get to the advantage line and then have the capacity to off-load; and then have the ability to get back and pose a threat in broken play. If we are inconsistant this year it is due to lack of forward aggression and the lack of a 'game changing' centre combination. Time for someone to stand up and be counted - would almost be tempted to put Higgers into inside centre - I bet that would make an impact!

      Dublin via Sydney
      Date and time
      June 16, 2012, 5:43PM
  • Spiro...Why are you worried about what a professional populist stirrer like Carlton has to say? His agenda has always been to attract attention to himself. It looks like you've fallen into trap.

    Date and time
    June 16, 2012, 5:16PM
    • Spiro, look at the tapes, read the transcripts, when the axe fell on Eddie, Connolley consistently said before his appointment and after his appointment that all he would do was take Aust to the World Cup and then step down, that's it - from memory he had 18 months to get the Wallabies ready. I don't deny that Connolley is a political beast, but to say its motivated by O'Neill axing him is more convinient for your conspiracy theory than the truth.

      Old School
      Date and time
      June 16, 2012, 6:46PM
      • There are public utterances and private desires.

        Date and time
        June 16, 2012, 7:11PM
    • New Zealand has 100,000 Grade Rugby players, Australia has 10,000.We have three other football codes, more than any other in the world.

      We don't have the single minded depth to be the best in Rugby year after year.It is about time we admit that the NZ style of total dominance is not possible given the other codes totally dominate Rugby numbers wise.

      Sydney Simon
      Date and time
      June 16, 2012, 10:49PM

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