Can the flower of victory surprise, growing from the bare rock of certain defeat? So recently, the silverware overflowed, as the Wallabies knocked off everyone in sight. In 2001 we were world champions, the first side to win the William Webb Ellis trophy twice. We held the Bledisloe Cup and the Mandela plate. We held the Tri Nations. And we enjoyed our first ever victory over the British and Irish Lions.
Now it’s all gone. And this Saturday we go to Auckland’s Eden Park to conclude the 2005 Tri Nations, certain competition losers for the first time since 1997. Australia is reduced to a miserable sideshow, a foil for deciding whether New Zealand’s All Blacks can take victory from South Africa’s Springboks.
It’s hard to see anything coming up for the Wallabies bar a hiding, our fifth on the trot. I’m hoping the boys can at least do better than the 50-21 massacre inflicted by the Blacks in 2003, and an improvement on the 30-13 walloping we got from this lot a few weeks ago might provoke scenes of wild celebration around my parts.
Of interest is Mat Rogers starting at fly-half. This is a move many rugby fans have been urging on Coach Eddie Jones for years. Rogers is a very good all-round footballer who has never found his position, as competent as he is in virtually every position. He has a good kicking game, is a deceptive runner with play-making skill, and had one hell of an early 2005 season with the Tahs. Luckily, NZ super-pivot Dan Carter isn’t playing. It could just work.
On the other hand, the right way to introduce the guy to the trickiest job in all rugby against the hardest team in all rugby would have been to start him in the fly-half spot at Super 12 level and then the weaker internationals. Rogers is injury prone, is going to get to know Richie McCaw very closely on Saturday, and will be lucky to make it to half-time against a rampaging Black side.
Likewise, moving George Smith to number eight is a switch many have been long urging, allowing for Rocky Elsom to balance Phil Waugh on the flanks. Australia was clearly out-muscled against the Blacks last time, and it will be interesting to see if our two great flyers together with the restored Elsom can stiffen the resistance.
Mark Chisolm has a big afternoon in front of him, replacing Dan Vickerman. Good to see Brendan Cannon back in the run-on team, and a further bonus is that the Blacks’ Jerry Collins is suspended, after a run of foul play, including taking Morgan Turinui out last time. Morgs is, incidentally, continuing his great season in being appointed vice captain (with Nathan Sharpe), and I like combining him in the centres with the exciting Clyde Rathbone. Drew Mitchell at full-back is also still one to watch.
But of course it is the Australian captain who has all the pressure on him, mostly unfairly in my view (for it is surely Coach Crazy Eddie Eyebrows Jones who has wrecked the erstwhile champions). On Saturday George Gregan reputedly joins some pommie as the most capped rugby player ever. He’s had a magnificent career. I pray this isn’t to be his ugly end.
Good luck to the poor bastards. Go the Wallabies!