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Wallabies need to be careful lest they kick France to victory

Nic White puts boot to ball during the second Test against France.

Nic White puts boot to ball during the second Test against France. Photo: Getty Images

Not long after the Wallabies 6, France 0 kickathon at Melbourne I received the following email on my laptop: “Over the past 10 years I’m sure I’ve seen Wallaby halfbacks do well over 500 box kicks. I cannot recall seeing a single one that produced an advantage for the team. Have I not been watching closely enough?” 

This was the mood, too, among the 27,000 or so at Etihad Stadium watching the game. They became extremely restive and then lapsed into a state of boredom as the kicking went on and on and on. It was a particularly knowledgeable crowd, too. How do I know? Because they applauded vigorously when Melbourne Rebels (Luke Jones and Scott Higginbotham) players and a former Rebels (Nick Phipps) ran on to the field. When Kurtley Beale finally decided to run the ball back to the French the crowd exploded in supportive enthusiasm. More importantly, the Wallabies looked slicker and more dangerous on attack. More like the Wallabies, in fact, that scored seven tries against France two weeks ago.

In the third Test of the series on Saturday afternoon (a splendid reversion to a tradition going back to 1899) at Allianz Stadium, the hope is that the Wallabies play in their Brisbane style and not their Melbourne lack of style. Ewen McKenzie needs to be beware of the Ides of 2006. At Brisbane that year John Connolly’s Wallabies defeated the Springboks 49-0. They scored six tries, restricted the Springboks to nil points for only the second time in that team’s history and inflicted the second-biggest loss they have ever suffered.

This was one of the greatest Wallabies victories. The next time the two teams played at Sydney, three weeks later, the Wallabies won 20-18 in a Test that created kickathon records. Connolly had imposed a kicking game on his brilliant running No.10 Stephen Larkham. The Wallabies lost three (New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland) of their next six Tests for the year, drew one (Wales) and won two (Italy and Scotland).

What this salutary history tells us is that the incessant kicking game can become a habit, a bad habit, that smothers like lantana the flowering of the smart, ensemble, attractive and try-scoring style the Wallabies side achieved at Brisbane.

One of the imperatives of the professional era of rugby is that teams have to be successful, on the scoreboard and in the eyes of their beholders. Why are the All Blacks, with their 16 straight Test wins, currently regarded around the world as the iconic rugby side? They fulfil these modern requirements. The Wallabies at Brisbane looked to be on this road, too. They will record their seventh successive Test win if they defeat France. The last time this was done was in 1999/2000 when Rod Macqueen’s Wallabies recorded 10 straight Test wins. It is the Macqueen success not the Connolly failure McKenzies’ Wallabies need to emulate.

The professional era began in 1996. It is creatively destroying the non-government schools control over the rugby game here. Money talks. The flow of “converts” is now from rugby league to rugby union (think Israel Folau). As rugby becomes a vocation (pay) as well as an avocation (play), players with a Pasifika background are putting their weight and ambitions into the game. George Smith, a Wallaby legend, first represented in 2000. Smith had a Tongan background. Digby Ioane (2007) was the first player with a Samoan background to play for the Wallabies. And now we have the exciting Wallaby debut of Will Skelton, the biggest player (203cm, 135kg) in the history of the Wallabies. Skelton is the prototype of the new Wallaby. He was born in Auckland. Like Ioane he has a Samoan background. Like Folau he grew up playing league. Last year, aged 21, he started his Super Rugby career for the NSW Waratahs.

“Prayers work best when players are big,” a coach of the Notre Dame gridiron side noted. That is the very big future of the Wallabies, starting from Saturday afternoon, with Tevita Kuridrani, Israel Folau, Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Wycliff Palu and Will Skelton leading the charge. 

7 comments so far

  • This is yawnion, of course there will be a lot of kicking thats why it is called kick n clap!

    Commenter
    paps
    Date and time
    June 21, 2014, 6:09AM
    • enjoy your boganball and all its classy propaganda

      Commenter
      J_Vic
      Date and time
      June 21, 2014, 3:34PM
  • Box kicks indeed! I agree with your email writer Spiro except the only thing in those invariably wasted kicks that is similar t a "Box Kick" is that it (hopefully)passes over the scrum. If the commentators knew what a box kick was these kicks would not be so identified. None of these kicks go anywhere near " the box" which is the area behind the scrum, in front of where the fullback could/should be and to the left or right of the 5/8! Our commentators are at fault for incorrectly calling a desperation relieving kick, (Will Genia the worst offender thereof) a "box kick". It seems to me that only the ABs know how to place this kick and benefit from its use"the wallabies rarely benefit from it.

    Commenter
    Strineranger
    Location
    Vic
    Date and time
    June 21, 2014, 10:16AM
    • Has anyone noticed the number of tries scored minutes after the half-time and full-time sirens, when teams are forced to retain possession rather than kick the ball away? If you don't have possession, the other side kicking is one sure way to gain possession. You should only kick as a last resort!

      Commenter
      GB1948
      Date and time
      June 21, 2014, 11:22AM
      • Totally agree about the box kick execution by our blokes , other halves ,
        du Preez and Smith are not as inept .

        Yes Spiro big is good , big and fast is better , and our forwards ain't .

        We could extend our our winning streak by missing matches against the three better Teams . Alas it's almost time to meet the elephant again , and BS won't work .

        Keep up the good work Spiro and Cully . Poor old JE is struggling down the road . I think he has too many hats to wear .

        Commenter
        Mankad
        Location
        Up in Palmerland ?
        Date and time
        June 21, 2014, 1:38PM
        • Well said. Once again another insightful piece by Zavos into the future of the game.

          The ARU has been nothing less than absolutely woeful at misusing the once-in-a-lifetime windfall gain from the World Cup. How could they have blown $50 million in a few short years? But they did. The ARU seems to be staffed by inflexible, staid, unimaginative dolts who cannot see beyond their 1980's-era rose coloured glasses.

          Why the hell the ARU did not pump money and expertise into the Catholic school system in the last decade or so I cannot comprehend. Many of the parents of these schools are disgusted at the antics and general immoral culture of NRL/league and are looking for alternative sports for their kids. AFL and now basketball are cashing in big time.

          Just dumb management.

          Commenter
          James
          Location
          Brisbane
          Date and time
          June 21, 2014, 2:47PM
          • Rugby must compete for players and audiences if it wants to succeed. Playing the right exciting “running game” is a massive part of this. It’s how kids play it too.

            So…another part of the success of any sport is how players contribute OFF the field as well - in developing the junior game and just mingling with the hoi polloi.

            The Wallabies, Reds, Waratahs, Brumbies, Rebels and Force have gone completely AWOL when it comes to community relations. In contrast, the AFL does exactly the opposite. Kids love the southern game and partly because their high profile players take it to them in small practical ways but very often. Maybe the rugby elites train a bit too much.

            In short, there is far too much of Heracles and the Greek heroes cult associated with our elite sportsmen as promoted by the media. We already know these guys are special and extraordinary athletes.

            What we also need to know is that they are of us as well.

            Fans esp. kids want to see their footy heroes in the street, at the local mall, running a coaching clinic at schools, doing some charity run...Being ordinary. Engaging with the common man, woman, child.

            Even being made fools of on TV adverts by Bundy Bear in amusing situations - unquestionably one of the smartest marketing gimmicks I have ever seen used by a sporting body. Something they've apparently now abandoned and which at least gave them a human dimension. The value they add by doing these things is immeasurable.

            “Character players" like the Honey Badger and his occasional TV appearances have at least done something to raise the “one-of-us” profile of elites in the minds of ordinary Australians.

            We used to see them all the time some years ago.

            Commenter
            Peter
            Location
            West End
            Date and time
            June 21, 2014, 2:59PM

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