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Mrs Barnes delivers, and so does her hubby

Date

John Eales

Calm ... Berrick Barnes of the Wallabies.

Calm ... Berrick Barnes of the Wallabies. Photo: Getty Images

The human mind can make for a cantankerous companion, confounding when it may liberate and liberating when you think it may consternate or even collapse.

Perfect preparation doesn't always lead to perfect performance.

In fact sometimes quite the opposite is true. A scattered or distracted preparation can have you humming and a faultless preparation have you playing a dirge.

Twelve days and three Tests into the international season and the Wallabies have secured the James Bevan trophy against the Welsh – just, but frustratingly missed out on the Hopetoun Cup against the Scots after an abbreviated preparation.

Preparation for Saturday's 25-23 Wallabies victory over the Welsh in Melbourne was certainly far from ideal for Wallaby five-eighth Berrick Barnes, who rushed to and from Sydney for the birth of his first child. However, impressively it didn't deter him submitting a man-of-the-match performance.

While it's uncontroversial to say that most fathers' role in the birth suite is secondary to the mother's, it is nonetheless a maelstrom of an emotional experience, unlike anything you have experienced or can properly prepare for.

The subsequent last-minute flight, the hurried cab to the team hotel and the pulsating 80-minute dash of rugby would have seemed relatively simple for Barnes, if not surreal.

In time Archie will be proud of dad's efforts, but he should spare a bouquet for his mother, who thankfully didn't quite share the 30,000-plus fans at Etihad Stadium at her delivery.

I'm not sure of Barnes's involvement in the suite but, despite a build-up where Test rugby would have been his furthest concern, Barnes delivered on the field.

His goal-kicking was almost flawless, as was the way he took the ball to the line, particularly in setting up Rob Horne for the Wallaby try right on half time. Up until that point the Wallabies had dominated but not led.

The lead then changed nine more times, climaxing after the final siren, saluting the Wallabies and shattering the gallant, skilful and somewhat unlucky Welsh.

It was far from perfect from the Wallabies but a win against quality opposition, in such dramatic circumstances, promises progress towards greater consistency.

Such consistent and reliable performance is largely driven through agitation, either external or internal.

Some athletes and teams create their own agitation. David Pocock is one, the All Blacks another. They seem to replicate high standards week in, week out, independent of the weather, the opposition or the phase of the moon.

The team leader is vital in the drive for consistency and in Pocock these Wallabies have a man to follow. In fact they have an equal in James Horwill when he's fit. And in Will Genia and Stephen Moore or Tatafu Polota-Nau, among others.

In fact they are developing a serious group of leaders throughout the team who are models of consistency in preparation and performance.

And this is important as one good leader might win you a Test but probably won't deliver a trophy of any merit, and he certainly won't deliver you a World Cup on his lonesome. You need five or six leaders through the team to do that.

Even then it won't just happen, but it at least gives you a ticket to play. And it is through these leaders, and the consistency they demand, that the other stars are allowed to shine. Enter Kurtley Beale, James O'Connor and perhaps Quade Cooper. Get this balance right and the Wallabies can not only compete with the best, they can be the best.

Don't get it right and in the competitive world of international rugby you will wallow in mediocrity.

On Saturday night the key reason the Wallabies beat Wales was their ability to turn negative momentum around in an instant. Just as there is a premium on leaders, there is also a premium on players who can stopan opposition in their tracks.

Pocock did it at numerous critical times at the breakdown. Nathan Sharpe and Rob Simmons stymied Welsh progress in the lineouts.

Wycliff Palu did it through some brutal defence. And Digby Ioane does it through his incisive and robust zigging, zagging and general terrorising, most valuably when there is nothing obviously on.

Momentum thieves dishearten the opposition, eating at their confidence, dousing the flames of their ambition, while simultaneously puffing the chests of their own team.

In the end it wasn't so much the fact the Wallabies won through the laser-like boot and steely nerves of Mike Harris at the last that mattered most, but the manner in which the victory was achieved.

When all was not running their way, when they were behind on the scoreboard and, perhaps most crucially, when they would have lost in these circumstances in the past, this time they triumphed.

There is a potentially thrilling road ahead for these Wallabies and it will be better for all their previous travails, both comfortable and compromised.

11 comments so far

  • As always Mr Eales, well put. It was far from decisive, but against a very highly rated Welsh side (deservedly so) who have a lot of recent games under their belt, unlike the Wallabies, they did the job. As you mentioned, a bit of luck on their side, but there's the old chestnut that quality teams make their own luck and winning close games, playing until the ref blows the whistle, is something we haven't been good at for a while. That seems to be turning around.

    I'd like to dip me lid to the refs in the last two tests as well - both been restrained, consistent and fair, letting the teams play a couple of great games.

    The only downside with both is the eternity taken from 'crouch' to 'engage'. I reckon 'engage' should be no more than 3 seconds from 'touch'. You've got about 1 tonne of blokes keen as hell to hit each other, when the 'pause' goes for so long an early engagement from one or the other is almost inevitable.

    That said, both good, flowing games with sensible use of advantage - thanks fellas.

    Commenter
    Harvey K-Tel
    Date and time
    June 18, 2012, 2:33PM
    • @ Harvey
      Yep, pretty much agree in total and I would add that to see composure up until and after the final whistle (with no real panic) was very re-assuring. We've now had two quality Test matches, although the Welsh may beg to differ!

      Commenter
      Machooka
      Location
      inner west sydney
      Date and time
      June 19, 2012, 9:07AM
  • Nobody's got it right again. As did GG in another article on this site.

    The greatest thing about the Wallaby performances these past two weeks has been their composure with their backs to the wall. The All Blacks and Sir Clive Woodward's England aren't/weren't the best in the world because they were the best in every match that they played. What set these sides apart is that they know/knew how to produce the results even when they aren't/weren't at their best. Champion sides stay calm, irrespective of the scoreboard or the momentum, and keep up the pressure until the ref calls time. They find a way to win the tight ones; to win ugly. Never do they wear the tag of vallant losers.

    The All Blacks did this against a better (on that day only) France in the RWC final and again last Saturday against a better Ireland who played like men possessed. At last, the Wallabies too are finally showing that they are developing the maturity and composure to close out the tight games.

    That there is obvious talent in the side has never been in question. But over the past decade, the team has repeatedly been found wanting when on the back foot. Yes, notable tight wins have been achieved in recent years over the Boks and the ABs, but these have been Herculean efforts against the odds that seemed to carry a sense of upset about them. By contrast, these wins against Wales have carried a sense of assurance and inevitability. Down to the final whistles, the boys looked composed, and like they believed. There are still numerous flaws, but the team psychology is looking very sound.

    Commenter
    Capt Footlong
    Date and time
    June 18, 2012, 10:49PM
    • Footlong: You quote "The Wallabies had the composure and the ability to close out tight games" unquote:,

      Fill us in mate as to when that was, as I don't remember it, (the closing out and ability thing you mention), the game I watched against Wales last weekend, was won by two points with a goal kick on a dubiously awarded penalty by a Kiwi, so that's not 'closing a game out' it's the ability of the goalkicker no less.

      The game was a 'kickfest' mate, you know what I mean, "you kick one and I'll kick one"!

      There was nothing in that game that suggested that the Wallabies were better than the Welsh and the Skippys' certainly were honoured by the presence of the Kiwi Referee!

      Commenter
      kirky
      Date and time
      June 21, 2012, 10:06AM
  • I have always thought that there was an error made when the then new scrum process was delivered on tablets of stone by the IRB. They intended the Ref to say....crouch, touch, engage, but wrote in the instruction that there should be a pause between Touch and Engage. This then became part of the spoken instructions in error so we end up with... Crouch(pause) Touch(pause) Pause(pause) Engage. This gives us four pauses, three of them in a row. They just need to drop the word Pause to improve things.

    Commenter
    Greydemon
    Location
    Perth
    Date and time
    June 19, 2012, 10:22AM
    • Brilliant piece Mr Eales as usual, you are without a doubt the finest writer on the game I know of. As a passionate kiwi and AB's supporter, it's obvious to me why you were so respected as a player and leader on the field. There is so much garbage writen by ex-players who hold on to petty rivalaries from their playing days and an parochialism that is embarrassing. You don't simply commentate on the game, you write great stories and consistently so I might add. And your comments on the Wallabies arer right on the mark, they are building a core group of leaders to go with their "stars" that will stand them in good stead over coming seasons.

      Commenter
      Cam
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 19, 2012, 1:13PM
      • Can anyone assist me? In the wake of two good test performances... and admirable performances by the Waratah players in the Wallaby squad (not to mention the outcry from many in Fan land - which quite frankly may not have been out of order...) why can players like Barnes... Ashley Cooper, Front Row, Palu etc not been able to create a cohesive and winning environment in the NSW? I dont buy the argument that the surrounding players are not up to scratch... if is a cultural problem then surely the above mentioned senior players should have sorted that out by now?

        Please assist.

        Commenter
        king sterling
        Location
        sydney
        Date and time
        June 20, 2012, 8:06AM
        • @ king sterling
          In short it's because of the 'human dynamic'- that is that all the players you have mentioned are current and past Wallabies.
          Now, follow me here, these players (some) are either recovering from serious injury or consistent form but have always had the talent to suceed at the higher level if all is right with Mars and Venus.
          To say you 'don't buy the argument...surrounding players are not up to scratch...' is probably incorrect as there are other factors-:
          ie coaches, management,culture, etc.
          I think everyone you mentioned except, maybe ACC, has been out of form/recovering from injury but now are looking good!
          ACC just needs to be surrounded by quality players to get the best out of him.
          Hope this explanation helps ?

          Commenter
          Machooka
          Location
          inner west sydney
          Date and time
          June 20, 2012, 9:21PM
      • The forgotten man in the Wallabies triumph over the Welsh is Dingo Deans.

        Its premature perhaps to say Deans has lifted his selectorial skills to a new level after some major gaffes in the RWC (playing props out of position, not giving the maestro Sharpe control of the lineout, not selecting Higginbotham when Elsom was clearly struggling, not including a back-up 7 and bloody mindedly persisting with Cooper when he clearly wasnt up to it) but the signs are there.

        The first sign came with the dumping of Slipper, a serial weak scrummager who cost the Wallabies the Scottish test. Dingo was persuaded to stick with Dunning and Baxter by Foley when he first coached the Wallabies (with further disastrous consequences) and doubtless Nucifora had a big hand in Slippers test elevation and the poor forward selections in the RWC.

        But this time Dingo wielded the axe decisively where it had to fall.

        Then he flew in the face of a certain public hysteria to select Palu, Barnes, and Ashley-Cooper, all test players with a track record but less super form. It proved a stunningly successful move with the "old hands" immediately stepping up to the test plate.

        None of his generation Y "spoilt kid" brigade featured in the two test triumph over Wales.

        And now Deans is looking to the future and wants to take the huge Tongan lock Siteleki Timani to the next level.as a Wallaby enforcer. For the next RWC it wouldnt surprise me if Timani takes over from Palu as the no 8 with Neville if he continues to develop, taking a locking spot. Timani ,could become the Pierre Spies of the Wallabies.

        And dont expect Horwill to regain the captaincy. Pocock handles the pressure better.

        Commenter
        mick-e
        Date and time
        June 21, 2012, 8:35PM
        • Chooka! You're da' man orright! you told that Sterling guy, correct and proper, good lesson mate' and as always 'bang on'!!

          Well done, looking forward to your next lesson!

          Commenter
          kirky
          Date and time
          June 21, 2012, 8:50PM

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