Looking on the bright side (sort of)

Well, we now know what previously we just strongly suspected. The Wallabies are so far behind New Zealand they can only hear the thump of their own reputations hitting the tarmac. The largest loss to the All Blacks ever at 50-21 says most of it.

John Connolly in the SMH somehow manages to put a positive spin on it. The headline on his assessment reads “Wallabies taught a lesson but still a cup chance“. I wouldn’t be that optimistic, although I agree with many of Connolly’s specific observations.

Actually, Christopher Sheil prompted my assessment of the game when he gave a series of somewhat facetious answers to why the Wallabies lost in an after-match comment box contribution to his previous pre-match post:

Bullshitter’s answer

There’s been a paradigm shift since the last world cup, and at the end of the day we have failed to think out of the box, leaving us out of the loop on the 24/7 win-win approach going forward.

I responded to Chris’s comment in a blinding flash of insomniac inspiration (or delusion, depending on your perspective):

I give what you characterise as the bullshitter’s answer, but it isn’t. What we saw last night was rugby taken to its next level, and it’s an awesome and exciting level.

Australia finally got its 1999-style game working (after a fashion) last night. We won all but one of our own lineouts (from memory), and took 3 or 4 off the All Blacks. And I recall one of the commentators saying late in the game that we were winning the rucks and mauls 58 to 10! But it simply made no difference. Why? Because NZ is now playing a completely different game.

Australia won the last World Cup by taking the game to a new level with rugby league-style tackling, a league-style compressed slide defence and highly disciplined multiple phase, forward-based rugby built on ultra-scientific rucking and mauling to control possession for long enough periods to suck in enough opposition defenders to then launch occasional attacks out wide, as well as excellent lineout technique.

Pretty much all of that was present last night (although the tackling of the outside backs needs work), but the Wallabies were beaten by a new style of rugby. New Zealand now plays rugby like (say) Newcastle or Brisbane Broncos (but not the Bulldogs or Roosters) play rugby league: strung out from one side of the field to the other, playing with incredible width, with a 5/8 (Andrew Johns, Alfie Langer or Ben Ikin in rugby league) able instantly to switch the point of attack with pinpoint 30 and 40 metre passes out to huge fast men like Umaga and Rokocoko or small fast men like Doug Howlett. After a while, the old-style Wallaby structure simply gets too stretched and tired, and the All Blacks run around them and score almost at will.

The new rugby is facilitated by a flat, umbrella defence rather than a compressed slide pattern, with the team disciplined only ever to commit 3 or 4 players at most to controlling a situation at the breakdown, so that the other 11 or 12 are always available out wide to launch an instant attack. It also needs, as I say, a Johns or Ikin at 5/8 able to toss very wide, pinpoint torpedo passes to launch those attacks.

We’ve seen this style of play employed at provincial level by Auckland Blues for the last 2 or 3 seasons with great success, but this (and last week against South Africa) is the first time the national team has successfully applied it. Its awesome, exciting to watch and very very effective.

The ironic thing is that Australia actually has most of the personnel we would need to play this style of rugby just as well as the Kiwis (althouh it’s far too late to develop and refine it enough to win this World Cup). Tuqiri, Sailor, Rogers and maybe Joe Roff and Latham (but not Matthew Burke, whose day is over) could thrive on this brand of rugby. In fact, it’s precisely the style that Sailor and Tuqiri were accustomed to playing under Wayne Bennett. What we don’t have but need desperately to implement this style is to buy a 5/8 like Ben Ikin or Braith Anasta (Andrew Johns would be better right now, but he’s too old to have a future) and teach them to play rugby without sacrificing their league skills and instincts. In the meantime, maybe Larkham can learn to play this style to an extent.

We should use this World Cup as an opportunity to begin developing and testing the new style of rugby. But I bet we won’t. Eddie Jones is a very limited, unimaginative coach, unable to see what is happening or do anything to combat it. Whether it’s the brain damage from years of scrums is another question.

PS – A further thought on positional selections while I’m at it. As Chris observed in an earlier comment, I’d bring Owen Finnigan into the second row in plave of Dan Vickerman. I thought the Smith/Waugh experiment at breakaway actually worked pretty well, and speedy breakaways would be a major advantage in playing the new NZ-style rugby. Noriega was fairly unimpressive at prop, and his second half replacement Ben Darwin wasn’t much better although, as I say, the rucks and mauls actually worked pretty well in the second half. In any event, I’m not sure there are too many other choices. Cannon went well at hooker, I thought.

Turning to the backs, Mat Rogers is anything but a centre (or 5/8 for that matter). One of the TV commentators remarked, after Rogers had been smashed in a tackle, that the Kiwis had worked out he doesn’t pass the ball very often! It’s no good having a centre who seldom passes if you aspire to the new NZ-style rugby (and in any event where you have huge, talented speedsters like Tuqiri and Sailor on the wings). I’d move Rogers to fullback, Tuqiri into the centres and slot Joe Roff in on the wing. I don’t see a place for Matthew Burke, and I’ve got severe doubts about Flatley’s value in the centres, although his defensive abilities make him useful against an awesome backline like the All Blacks. If Flatley was told that his job in attack was simply to shovel the ball out to Tuqiri or throw a cutout to one of the wingers on most occasions, he might make a good inside centre.

A team with that sort of shape, coached to play the new NZ style at least on dry days (but with grinding multiple phase forward play thrown in occasionally for a bit of variety) would have a fighting chance against the All Blacks, I suspect. The problem is that the Kiwis themselves have shown, by the amount of time it’s taken them to successfully adapt the Auckland Blues methods at a national level, that this style of play requires a very high level of understanding between the backs, and equally high levels of understanding and co-ordination to ensure that only the minimum number of forwards become committed to rucks and mauls at the breakdown. These are things you don’t develop overnight. That’s why the Wallabies have no chance of winning this World Cup, unless it pisses down raining the whole time, which would bring the All Blacks back to the pack but would probably mean that you’d favour England to win rather than the Wallabies.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Ken,

Some of us predicted the ALBLACKS as specials for the ‘world cup’ some time ago and that Australia had two chances.

I was therefore not surprised by last night’s performance by either side.

Remembering the grounds for the ‘world cup’ will be similar to last night I am wondering if anyside will get close to the ALBLACKS.
I am looking forward to them playing England though.

I once played rugby at Meadowbank high school in 3rd form and we got beat 97-0 and that is when tries were 3 points!! I might see that in the ‘world cup’.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

Ken,

I dunno about your Leaque theory. I’m not saying your wrong, but there are a lot of imponderables there, and it it would mean Coach Jones and John Alexander have got us stranded betweeen players capable of one style and others at another: a worst of both worlds that still lands it back at Coach Eddie’s feet. Anyway, I’ll leave that hang. We can agree on some other things.

Yes, using the two flying flankers worked. Combining this with a streamlined simple approach to the line-outs paid dividends in that area, and the two flyers lay at the root of that first wonderful Burke try. That’s something at least to have a little (very little) inward cheer about.

Cannon had a great game, although he was very bloody lucky not to follow Sailor into the bin.

I doubt your Rogers assessment. That was one of Gordie’s comments about the passing, and it just doesn’t stack up in my memory. Rogers seems to me to have a decent pass on him, on occasions last night, and noteably last fortnight when he sent Sailor in. Indeed, at another time last night one of the other commentators ticked off Rogers for trying to pass when he should be learning to keep the ball in hand! I don’t think the New Zealanders have gone anywhere near working Rogers out … as he proved by scoring an excellent try almost straight after Gordie’s flip comment.

Also disagree with your assessment of Burke, particularly re Latham (of socks down). This is an old hobby horse of banana bender Connolly. Last night I saw Burke score an excellent try, take some good ball and make good tackles. Whereas I saw Latham drop a ball, step out before he kicked upfield (which was fortunate, because the kick was hopeless), make one run from full back, where he side-stepped one way, and then another, which had the marvellous result that he put himself back on his original trajectory and ran straight into the tackler. He made one tackle, but was then caught way out of position to stop a try. The guy’s not equipped, except against weak teams where his strong running can be devastating. That’s not to say that there might not be a better combination with someone else at fullback, but not Latho … too many times.

Flatley’s a good tackler, but he’s not a damaging tackler. Grey and Herbert are just as good, but more damaging. Turinui and Mortlock are also good tacklers, and better runners. It was Flatley’s defence that Spencer picked to set up one of their first half trys. His problem is a lack of Rugby maturity … very much a Pat Howard style player who excells at school boy level, but doesn’t cut it internationally. If I were him, I’d be looking for a couple of years in Europe to pick up some guile.

Back to Sailor: two bad missed tackles and then the sin-bin for transgressing one of the genuinely clear-cut no-brainer rules … and then leaving the Wallabies outflanked on his wing to lose their early momentum. It’s not as though this was one-off. It’s his ingrained pattern. He can’t do his fixed role, but is always capable of scoring virtually solos try .. that’s a run-on impact player for mine.

In sum, I’ll stick with my lack of a team theory. They were outmuscled and out-run in the championship minutes … just before and after half-time, and in their last 10 minutes … which also suggests something is very wrong in their preparation. Your bullshitter’s answer could have something in it, but I’ll leave it hang, at least until I understand what you’re talking about.

In the meantime, like Homer, I’m looking forward to England vs NZ.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Chris,

I was suggesting Rogers at fullback, not Latham. I merely commented in passing that the freer-flowing Kiwi style, making maximum use of the outside backs,would suit his skills better. However, I agree with all your comments about his shortcomings (although I doubt anyone could have avoided stepping out before kicking in the incident you mention).

I also agree on Sailor (I think). So how about this variation to my original nominations? Mortlock on the wing, which gives us a kicker alternative to Rogers in the absence of Burke (sorry, I don’t agree about Burke – he backed up for a good try, but it was set up by others). Tuqiri at outside centre, and Nathan Grey at inside centre. If that doesn’t work, put Tuqiri back on the wing and Mortlock at outside centre. In either case, bring Sailor on (as you suggest) as an impact player.

Finally, I’m not sure how much more clearly I can sketch my rugby league theory than I already have. Just watch a game involving Newcastle (when Andrew Johns is playing) or Brisbane (when Ikin is playing) and you should see what I’m talking about. Easts and Canterbury play a current Wallabies-style game – swarming slide defence, turning it back inside to the forwards most of the time, and tossing it wide only occasionally when enough defenders have been sucked into the middle. Newcastle and Brisbane, on the other hand, play the sort of game I saw the All Blacks play last night – tossing it wide at every opportunity; counter-attacking from anywhere on the field; changing the point of attack with bewildering speed; using huge, long torpedo passes to the outside backs etc etc. Of course, it doesn’t mean that you never use the forwards: obviously you do. However, it’s a completely different style and emphasis than the Wallabies’ game at present.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“However, it’s a completely different style and emphasis than the Wallabies’ game at present.’

Culture and strategy forged on GPS playing fields versus a game revolutionised by multicultural flair and brilliance. NZ Rugby has changed remarkably. Australian Rugby hasn’t.

Mork
Mork
2022 years ago

I’d say the strategy has run ahead of the culture, Geoff, but both are presently a long way behind NZ!

I do find it annoying that even as the playing staff and the style of play have been transformed by professionalism by becoming innovative, meritocratic and a hell of a lot more skilful, the rugby commentariat (Ken aside!) is still dominated by rah rah wankers like Chris Handy and Gorden (I can tell you which school his father went to) Bray.

It’s another step that has to be taken if rugby is ever going to displace league.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

Ken,

I’m not necessarily discounting your League theory, you’ve just caught me short. I followed the League fanatically and microscopically from when I first moved to Sydney when I was 12 until I returned after two years in Perth in 92 … and try as I did, after two years absence, I just couldn’t get interested in the thing … like really, I found myself just falling asleep in front of the TV … abolishing my team (Easts) didn’t help … but what sort of joke are those scrums … and whatever, I don’t have the knowledge base to tangle with you on this one.

But of course, it’s obvious enough that the Blacks showed great ability to throw it around at 11, 14 and 15, with their 10 doing a lot of great passing. The funny thing is that the Wallabies used to have a great counter-attacking flair, along with a wonderfully structured back-line, and, well, they also used to have halves that could double around, an uncanny ability to do inside flicks to players on the burst, deadly scissor plays in midfield … and, well, a lot more and all those other things that come from playing and combining and having confidence in each other and the team.

This ability didn’t just fade away in the face of a superior Blacks team on Saturday night; it’s been absent for a couple of years now. It was absent this year in the soft as well as the hard tests, which means the problem is not just that the top teams have a better paradigm and have moved past us (although, be clear, I’m not saying your theory hasn’t got some legs). But from where I’m watching, first we had the ‘rush-up defence’ explanation against England and to some extent the Boks (re De Witt), now we have the ‘umbrella defence’ explanation against the All Blacks. There may be something in these technical patterns, but the failure of the Wallabies to be able to play with any confidence, imagination and flair against the weaker Test teams shows that we have definitely also gone backwards on our past abilities.

We’ll have to agree to disagree about Burkey. I though he was better this week than last, and if picked will be better again next week … he’s coming on nicely in my book. I also think we don’t have to worry about Rogers … a steady improver, who will have learned a thing or two about centre defence on Saturday (actually, he’s so good, I would still be tempted to pull him closer … there’s a note in the blatherings today that suggests he’ll be at fly-half for the Tahs next year, and I say bring it on). I think Morts is a good outside-centre, but a touch too slow for wing … and he’s gonna have a match fitness problem that we can ill afford. But Rogers, Grey or Morts (or Herbert or Turinui) would all be worth a go over Flats I reckon. I’ll be interested in what Woodsy’s got to say when he checks in.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

with respect the major problem is with the engine room.

Yes put Rogers at fullback, they need to find a flyer at outside centre and try and utilise two 5/8s at a ruck thus giving greater areas of attack (Can someone tell me why they didn’t do this).

Backs need the forwards going forward however it needs to be pointed out Larkham took a lot of wrong options on Saturday night.

Eddie should have stayed with the brumbies.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Homer,

Yes, you’ve touched on 2 important aspects I should have discussed more fully. Larkham didn’t have a good game at all. However, he’s just back from injury and he’s a quality player and will certainly improve from here. So that’s at least one basis for optimism.

Of course, a large part of the reason for Larkham’s poor game (as well as being a bit rusty) was that the forwards weren’t going forward! It’s hard for the inside backs to make good decisions when they’re backpedalling and have no time or space. The forwards did OK in rucks and mauls (and lineouts) in possession terms, but they lacked any authority or go-forward. As a result, the Kiwis had no need to commit many forwards to the rucks and mauls, leaving them free to set up a soild wall umbrella defence that left the backs backpedalling without time or space.

A more authoritative tight five especially would suck more defence players into the rucks and mauls and give the backs more opportunity to develop combination and flair. The trouble is, I don’t know where a significantly better tight five will come from. As I said before, I think Finnigan will make a positive difference in the second row, and Darwin is probably a marginal improvement on Noriega. But it isn’t going to be anywhere near enough.

Os
Os
2022 years ago

I’m an Aussie Rules fan, but I like to watch Union because it’s an international game, and you know for sure that when those blokes run onto the ground, they are deadly serious about playing for their country. Well, I just didn’t get that “vibe” from the Wallabies. I’m hoping they’re just a fraction of inspiration away from switching on. Eddie Jones certainly seems incredibly sanguine about the situation, so maybe he’s just waiting to throw the switch, or am I being optimistic?

On another note, it’s said that every man has a rainy corner in his life from which bad weather comes which follows him. I don’t know about that, but I sure and hell know that every Australian has a flippin’ Kiwi in his life who invariably rings him up from out of the blue after a Rugby test to have a chat. My SMS went within 5 seconds of the end of the game.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

Re Bernie Larkham, I think you two a being a bit tough. Note how we at least got the ball to Rogers regularly for once …. the first time the outside centre has got into the play for three games. He also made several half breaks, including one in the last quarter that was just screaming for the inside runner who wasn’t there. OK, he kicked too much, but Ken’s right to at least some extent re the backpeddling. I also agree with Ken re the tight five … no more options outside Finegan in the second row (Fitzy calls for Dunning, but I think that time’s past).

More generally, the press has pretty much followed within the Troppo analyses, although Gregan gets a kicking from several quarters (I don’t think he’s playing well, but discount Spriro here, as he has always picked on George … what Spiro has forgotten about his favoured Nick Farr-Right Jones is that, while he had faster service, it was much worse service … if you ever get sick one day, get the videos out and watch Noddy picking em up off his toes, in front of his face, behind his back … you name it … it was easy to be fast when you had the world’s best set of hands out-side you … but it would murder Bernie). Implictly Flats is in trouble via the commentary, which doesn’t mention him but refers a lot to the need for a new centre. Burkey came through the commentary OK … and many, including Coach Jones (which makes me nervous), seem to have gone with the short answer for the loss posited by yours truley. So where’s Woodsey?

deej73@austarmetro.com.au
deej73@austarmetro.com.au
2022 years ago

Maybe the Union could do worse than scope out some of the Touch players around who have the body shape to be able to play Union? A lot of the more agile and skilful backs going around in League played junior Rep. Touch. Benji Marshall who played for Wests Tigers on the weekend played Mixed for Australia only a couple of months ago.

Personally, i think it’s good to see that Australia are getting beaten by teams that don’t play the boring game that Australia has been too frequently playing for the last few years. Rockokos 10 metre speed was awesome, as was spencer’s attacking vision.

Another thing is that the Australian backline didn’t adjust it’s depth so that it put itself further away from the All Blacks swarming defense. This would have put the umbrella defence under much greater pressure than running flat lines. The backs need to give themselves room to work with. Save the flat stuff for close to the line, or after a few phases when the defence will find it hard to react quickly. When the backs could work with depth hitting the advantage line, they looked far more dangerous and also exposed the lack of defensive agility of a number of the Blacks backs.

dj
dj
2022 years ago

If you have the time ta’ers, can you change my tag to just dj rather than my spam invitation on the previous comment?

thanks

cs
cs
2022 years ago

Alan Jones has weighed into the Rugby debate, calling for the sacking of Coach Jones. Is this a cause for optimism? I think so, and will withdraw all my calls for Eddie to tap the mat. By all means keep giving him a kicking, but it’s now way too late for the Parrott’s extremism. What’s more, the beleagured Coach has clearly been reading Troppo, not only endorsing this pundit’s short answer to why the Wallaby’s went down last Saturday, but also echoing the long technical answer. I also think Eddie’s defence of Gregan and the ‘two steps’ issue appears rather credible, given the way the scrums, rucks and mauls have been going, and is certainly something that is empirically checkable:

I read that people are saying that he unnecessarily takes a step or two before he passes. I’ve yet to see an international halfback in the last few years who doesn’t take a step or two. Most halfbacks now do that because there are always arms and bodies around them. That’s reality.

Meanwhile, some good news across the Tasman is that the Black’s are now in a barney with their admin about World Cup salaries etc … one thing we at least have now settled.

woodsy
woodsy
2022 years ago

I’m facinated by the bargaining that’s going on between the NZPA and the NZRU re bonus payments for winning the world cup. NZRU has offerred $50,000 compared to, what?; $300,000 for the Australian players. Perhaps (he thinks cynically) more notice should be taken of Coach Jones (and absolutely no notice of Parrot Jones) when he says that, while the Trinations and the Bledisloe are important tournaments, the real biggie is the World Cup; and from a players financial point of view who can doubt him ?

If the various sums being touted are correct, particularly the Australiam bonus, the WC becomes the same as the Olympics for Russian athletes. If you could pick up the equivalent of five or six years pay for winning one game, wouldn’t it be worth putting up with all the shit from the chattering classes ?

Omigod, will I stop at nothing to rationalise the Wobbilies poor performance ?

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

The AB’s settled this a.m. for 80K.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

Well, that’s gotta piss the NZ players off, whenever they think about how much the other top teams are getting … he says hopefully.

Ron Mead
Ron Mead
2022 years ago

Probably not relevant to the above, but this is REALLY OUTRAGEOUS. No major cultural significance, indeed! We must now insist on having the haka banned! Aux armes, mon comrades!

cs
cs
2022 years ago

In-bloody-deed!!!!!!!

I’m with you Ron … to arms, to the streets … now they’ve really done it … no prisoners, no surrender …

woodsy
woodsy
2022 years ago

It just shows how out of touch the IRB is doesn’t it ? Or, if one was to be very cynical, it’s all a plot by John Williamson to MAKE SURE that he gets to sing before the OZ games.

trackback
2022 years ago

All-black and blue

New Zealand’s smashing victory over Australia on Saturday night seems to have come as a surprise to the newspaper pundits, with Fitzsimons calling for panic and Spiro Zavos calling for…

trackback
2022 years ago

Gregan rules “