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Victory over Welsh doesn't mask woes


Paul Cully

Mixed bag … Drew Mitchell muscles up in Cardiff.

Mixed bag … Drew Mitchell muscles up in Cardiff. Photo: Reuters

Given the Wallabies' year, it was entirely appropriate that even Kurtley Beale's brilliant late try against Wales on Saturday came with a caveat. The game had been won but not by the margin needed to reclaim the No.2 ranking in the world. Australia finish the year lower than where they began, with just one win from six games against the world's top-four sides and without any silverware: the season has been a failure, although one with mitigating factors.

There should be no apologies for that tough appraisal. The fans' viewpoint has to be represented. While New Zealanders, the French and even now the English can look forward to next year with rosy expectations based on spells of rugby that exceeded anything Australia produced this year, Wallabies fans must content themselves with a series of conditionals. If Will Genia makes a full return from injury, the attack could be better. If James O'Connor settles into a position that allows him to develop his talent, the back line could be slicker. If Quade Cooper. If James Horwill. And so on.

All the nagging doubts about the side's direction under Robbie Deans were present for most of an underwhelming game at Millennium Stadium. A lack of guile with ball in hand. The apparent determination to kick the ball away as a strategy rather than a series of individual decisions, and to do it with a lack of accuracy. Fortunately, these Welsh are paralysed by a chronic lack of self-belief, as well as a few key injuries. Their ranking outside the world's top eight does not insult them.

And yet, for all their faults, the Wallabies' familiar qualities were still in evidence. They attacked the breakdown with vigour and timing. In the 39th minute, Benn Robinson won a tough breakdown penalty and immediately received the plaudits of his mates. This is a team that is playing for each other.

Remember, too, that this was essentially a game too far, one for the bean counters. Most other nations had wrapped up their campaigns for the year, and the All Blacks played with such unrecognisable passivity at Twickenham it looked like they had, too. The Wallabies let themselves down in Paris, but finished stronger than the world champions. The coach has obviously pushed some right buttons, particularly with Beale. There is no way the out-of-shape version of the five-eighth would have had the fitness to run that line inside Dave Dennis in the final seconds a few months ago.

These duelling observations - a painful lack of a cutting edge, but an admirable ability to dig themselves out of holes - is why the Wallabies' passionate followers have arrived at such contrasting positions when it comes to Deans. Those calling for his head are not raging blindly, nor are those backing him apologists who cannot see the obvious.

When the ARU conducts its end-of-season review, it will be a complex task, made more so by the performance of the Super franchises this year.

The time zones can make watching Super Rugby in its entirety an arduous task, but that is the only way to watch it if you want to make the mental notes on who is setting the benchmarks. This year, when it came to skills, breakdown work, attacking play and so on, you unfortunately had to work backwards to find where the Australian franchises stood in comparison to its SANZAR partners. The Australian derbies did not give the appearance of a foundation from which the world's best Test side would be built, especially in comparison to the pace of some of the New Zealand encounters, or the sheer physicality of the South African affairs. Television viewing figures released last week, showing a sharp decline, hint that the public was not being fooled.

Neither can they tolerate the bickering between head office and the Super franchises that has periodically raised its head this year. The most astonishing words of the year remain those contained in Mark Arbib's report released in October. "There is currently a worrying divide between the business models of Super Rugby teams and the ARU … As a result, the very structure of Australian rugby has become a factor inhibiting the success of both the national and the Super Rugby teams," Arbib wrote.

Sort it out, gentlemen. The fans expect and deserve better next year because this year has gone and the results have been unconvincing.

59 comments so far

  • This is a completely bias article which is highlighting all of the negative aspects of Australian Rugby. We won plenty of Silverware: Mandella Plate, Puma Cup, Cook Cup and the James Bevan Trophy. Rugby Union is not all about entertaining rugby, if that is what drives you, go watch Rugby League. You cant criticise Australia's rugby considering the large injury toll they acquired, if you have played the sport you would realise that combinations take a lot of time and practice to perfect especially if we have used 3 Fly Halfs in one season and over 10 centre combinations. If you look at the blackline who started against Wales last year there was not one single player who retained their position for this game. The Boks and All Blacks were spoilt for choice and did not have a depleted squad, this meant they could rotate players and still preserve their combinations. Furthermore, considering Australian Rugby has to compete with Rugby League, AFL and now Soccer for both player bases and tv ratings, as well as lacking the same rugby structure and foundations seen in New Zealand (ITM Cup), South Africa (Currie Cup) and the sheer size of the player bases in England and France, its very impressive that we are the number 3 and could be no.2 if we scored a couple more points. I believe that everyone is criticising the Wallabies and Robbie Deans for what they see on tv and not the off field matters. The fact that we won 9 from 15 games with injuries, played 4 mid-year tests with a squad which had less than a week together, came second in a competition with the two best rugby nations and lost one game on the spring tour has only showed the strength of Australian Rugby.

    Date and time
    December 03, 2012, 1:10AM
    • Well said Harry. Australia currently holds 6 out of the possible 10 trophies it competes for in Rugby - hardly a sad state of affairs. Paul Scully, like Greg Growden before him, arrogantly disrespects almost all of the other rugby playing nations by continually taking these other trophies for granted. Yes, the France performance was poor and deserved criticism. But other than that, the Wallabies main failure in 2012 was to beat NZ - irrespective of the fact that no-one else did either in 20 matches until the weekend. Yes we want the Bledisloe, but we need to be the best side in world rugby to achieve this, and at the moment we are not. However, retaining the Mandela Plate and winning back the Cook Cup at Twickenham were real achievements, as was winning the James Bevan Trophy twice. So Paul, by all means criticise the Wallabies playing style and Robbie Deans coaching if you want, but don't disrespect the team's hard earned achievements. And IRB rankings are irrelevant apart from achieving a top 4 world cup seeding, which the Wallabies have now accomplished..

      Date and time
      December 03, 2012, 11:09AM
    • Spot on Harry Thompson!

      I am really looking forward to the development of this current squad -
      the substantial difficulties faced by the Wallabies this year will
      stand us in good stead in the only Tests that matter -
      the games yet to come.

      Bring on the Lions.

      Date and time
      December 03, 2012, 11:32AM
    • 'Rugby Union is not all about entertaining rugby'. You can say that again. Who could watch this stuff at 3AM? Even match highlights on the 6pm news put me to sleep. When the game is not a kickfest, it's a view of a mob of bums sticking out of a pile of blokes writhing around, contesting a ball that is somewhere not visible to viewers, and if the bloke with the whistle doesn't like it for some unfathomable reason, they do it again and again. The main skill in the game seems to be to trick the opponents into conceding penalties and win on goals. Snore!

      Date and time
      December 03, 2012, 4:40PM
    • How can you not criticise Deans? And I'm not talking about the win/lose record. It is the style of rugby Deans has the team playing that has me pulling my hair out. Win or lose, the rugby has been pedestrian at best and has had me reaching for the remote to see what was on Antique Roadshows. The Wallabies showed they have the skills available to play a beautiful brand of rugby when in the 78th minute of the Wales match they abandoned the game plan and backed themselves to play what was in front of them. People may ask where has that been for the past 12 months? It has always been there, just layered over and beat down by some conservative and inaccurate coaching.

      Date and time
      December 03, 2012, 10:53PM
    • Harry you make some extremely valid points. But I would just like one change to the way that the Wallabies are playing the game - less pointless kicking and more running rugby. The last 2 minutes of the Walsh game showed we can still do it. Lets see more of that expansive style of play I know we all love.

      Date and time
      December 04, 2012, 9:21AM
  • Changes of captains, injuries to numerous key players, inexperienced players and yet the Wallabies still remain competitive. A lesser coach and they would have completely collapsed. Had Deans been coaching the ABs he would have been hailed a hero. Had the Wallabies been at full strength consistently throughout the past three years they could well be number 1.
    Our world is full of 'ifs' but the fact is, deans, under these circumstances has done remarkably well

    Date and time
    December 03, 2012, 1:46AM
    • If....but....excuses don't win big games, that's clear.

      Date and time
      December 03, 2012, 4:41PM
    • Jonno! they haven't done remarkedly well at all, as they perform by the skin of their teeth and the very few wins they did have were super ugly and I don't remember one entertaining game as played in any one of them~and I disagree entirely with your theory of "they could well be Number one". they never have been Number one and never will be number one, the Wallaby Australian psyche doesn't allow for it as rugby is a poorly administered around fourth tier sport played here in OZ, put plainly they're simply not good enough and never have been!

      They have no players to speak of as most of the top players are "foreigners" anyway, and they take crocked up players who hardly play a game on tour, which is indicative of sheer unavailability of playing strength.

      It's a peculiar scenario when you see half the team on the field dressed up like mummys!

      Date and time
      December 05, 2012, 10:40AM
  • Frankly to finish third in the world of RU is quite an achievement for a small country like Australia.....particularly given that no other country has the overwhelming competition for young players that the ARU faces from the dominating size of Aussie Rules and Rugby league.
    Australia ranks about seventh in numbers of players and cant compare with NZ or South Africa which also have no significant competing winter sport, or England which has about 30 times as many players.
    For a country - where boys predominantly play Aussie Rules or League- to finish third is no mean achievement.

    But to do better everything - organisation, development, coaching and politics - must work in harmony, else sooner or later union must lose out to the big boys of winter sport.

    But lets be positive - there have been 13 Rugby world cups since world competitions began - and so
    far the Kangaroos and the Wallabies have won 8

    No one else comes close!


    Date and time
    December 03, 2012, 6:10AM

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