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Why high altitude is no place for a bad attitude


John Eales

South Africa's captain Jean de Villiers is challenged by Australia's Kurtley Beale. Click for more photos

Bruised Wallabies belted in Pretoria

Injury-hit Wallabies shown no mercy by Springboks. Photo: Reuters

It's been a tough week for the Wallabies. A lot tougher than it should have been, even considering it doesn't get much harder than playing the Springboks at Loftus Versfeld, a venue where they have never had joy in a Test previously and still haven't as of yesterday morning's 31-8 defeat.

In such a week, with all the usual challenges of preparing for a big Test in South Africa, the Wallabies also had to contend with troubles from within – from afar – in the form of their injured fly-half, Quade Cooper. While it contributed to rugby gaining column inches in the last week of September, the biggest week of their two most direct sporting rivals' year, it wasn't in a way that was remotely useful.

Now Cooper, in airing his views about the Wallabies setup, either entirely misread the sentiments of his team mates, and rugby supporters alike, or doesn't care. The latter scenario particularly doesn't go down well among comrades in a combat code. A sniff of selfishness and you lose the room very quickly, and it generally doesn't come back in a hurry.

Whether it affected the Wallabies' performance on the day or not, it couldn't help but affect their attitude to Cooper. International sport is tough enough as it is without distractions, particularly in such a hostile environment, and there is no game more away from home than the Springboks in Pretoria. Twickenham may be further afield but it ain't as far removed from comfort as Loftus is.

I'm not sure if it's the general hostility of the crowd, the attitude around the streets or the altitude that gets you first, but they each eat away in their own insidious manner. Even if you get them on the scoreboard, it won't be before a toll is exacted. You have to plan for the challenge, confront it and, if you are to succeed, overcome it. And that's all before you even consider the 15 men in green trying to stop you.

Considering how exposed the Wallabies are at the moment through injury, it was quite amazing that the advantage we held against the Springboks was in experience. Johan Goosen for example, was playing his first run-on Test at fly-half and I'm sure it won't be his last.

His selection, and that of other emerging youngsters from within their ranks, some from their world under 20 championship team, was a big departure from the sanctuary of established players like Morné Steyn, whose conservative but accurate game has put many great teams to the sword in this very graveyard.

I have often wondered why the Springboks play such a conservative game as through their large and domineering forwards and their fast and skilful backs, a comprehensive game would proffer an almost insurmountable challenge. Certainly, defending a fast-paced and wide-ranging game makes it even more difficult for your blood to transport the already thinner oxygen around your ailing limbs. For if you are not acclimatised to altitude, it may be the burn in your lungs that gets you before the lethargy in your limbs or vice versa, but something will get you.

Despite the contribution of the young guys, it was an old stager who inflicted the mortal wounds on the Wallabies. Bryan Habana, who had been terribly out of sorts last year, exploited the space he loves so well and scored three tries as a result.

Speaking with former Wallaby flanker Gary Pearse over the weekend, he reminisced about his days playing club, state and Test rugby with the Ella brothers Mark, Glen and Gary. Their philosophy was to put the ball where their supporting players should be rather than where they necessarily were. They would have loved to have played with Habana as he has wonderful instincts for being in the right place at the right time.

If you didn't happen to be in the right place at the right time with the Ellas, however, they were remorseless in their demands, but as much of each other as of anyone else. You knew where you stood and it was accepted.

This is how challenge in and around a team environment should occur.

Further, Pearse recalled, that after one commentator marvelled at the magic of the alliteration Ella, Ella, Ella there was suddenly a lot less of Ella, Ella, Pearse, Ella. It actually became a lot more frequently, Ella, Ella, Ella . . . Pearse off . . .

This week as the Wallabies travel to a less daunting but no less challenging Rosario in Argentina, they will need all allies aligned to have any chance of finishing the inaugural Rugby Championship with one more victory.

42 comments so far

  • Perhaps it is John Eales who has misread the sentiments of the Wallabies in the rarifed air of the ARU board, who insist Australia isn't good enough to come up with an Australian coach for the Australian team. I wonder how those Wallaby players who still support Deans feel about Deans bumbling the replacement strategy and leaving the team stranded with only 14 players in the last 10 minutes of the game. They must be pretty happy with the professional support they are receiving from Deans and his staff .......

    Date and time
    October 01, 2012, 5:48PM
    • Totally agree. If we wanted a mediocre team we would have chosen any Australian coach vying for the job at the time. We did, however, chose a Kiwi on the basis that we would get a world beating ( read All Black beating) team. Several years later and we've still got mediocre or worse and it's too late to do a U-turn. Three cheers for the ARU.....

      Date and time
      October 02, 2012, 12:27AM
    • Funny that not all the players were born in Australia either!! When is this silly bee in the bonnet attitude going to finish? Might have been better to reflect on McCaw's attitude to Deans; almost walks on water.

      Provided Australia is their home (i.e. they live here) I do not care where they come from.

      Date and time
      October 02, 2012, 5:50AM
    • Show some respect boy.

      Mr Eales has forgotten more about rugby than you will ever know.

      Perth via Rakaia
      Date and time
      October 02, 2012, 11:02AM
    • At a boy Piru - keep supporting the Wallabies kiwi coach so we wont beat your All Blacks.
      Another foreigner giving us rubbish advice ....

      Date and time
      October 02, 2012, 12:59PM
    • A team is only as good as what "cattle you have in the yard". I've said it before, an I'll say it again Australia needs an internal comp. The failure of the ARU to get this up an running, is not even funny. They are not doing their jobs. We need a comp, something like Sth. Africa's Currie Cup or New Zealand's Ranfurly Shield, promotions and sponsorships, school (PUBLIC & private) kids learning the game. The finger points directly at the ARU. To much sitting back and resting on their laurels.

      Date and time
      October 02, 2012, 3:36PM
    • Re stuffing up with replacements, has anyone else noticed how thre seems to have been a slight "bending of the rules" lately re the use of replacement props ?

      It seems in a few games lately a Wallaby prop is replaced quite early in the game, and then sometime during the second half, one of the props becomes "injured", which means the prop who had been replaced can return to the field, because the rules allow such a replacement to occur in relation to the front row (unfortunately this counted as one of the 7 replacements on Saturday and the Wallabies were caught short when they actually needed to replace T P-N, who was genuinely injured).

      The tactic has allowed each of the 3 props to play two-thirds of the game. Whilst it is not breaking the rules, it does seem to be a pre-meditated tactic to end them ...

      And I always thought props were the tough guys on the field ... at least that's what the ones I played with kept telling me ...

      Date and time
      October 02, 2012, 4:06PM
    • And while you're at it Johnny-boy, make the man some eggs!

      Date and time
      October 02, 2012, 4:08PM
    • Johnny-boy, I would LOVE for the Wallabies to win a meaningful victory against the ABs.

      The Bledisloe used to be the pinnacle of rugby, but due to the Wallabies' poor showing recently, it's become little more than a box ticking excercise.

      You want to know a person who knows what it means to beat the ABs at their best, and when it matters?

      John Eales.

      You'd do well to listen more and talk less little man.

      Perth via Rakaia
      Date and time
      October 03, 2012, 12:00PM
    • Who is this nino named "jonny boy"? Is this "handle" your own choice? Thought up some time between 2nd and 3rd bottle of jim beam?? Your comments always are Deans centric. What will you write about when there is a new coach, be it tomorrow or 3 years? I do not see the benefit of Deans being heaved but what will you do then?
      Your rants are as childish as your monicker. Due to idiots such as yourself I now look at the writers name before reading. When I sight yours in future I will..........

      headed off
      Guatavita, Colombia
      Date and time
      October 06, 2012, 10:52AM

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