After watching the Wallabies play the house down in Cardiff, most of us would be feeling quite content. Relieved that our players remember how to play running-rugby after years of having their natural instincts and talent dumbed down. Relieved in the fact that we can still perform against a quality opposition outside of Australia. Relieved that Ewen McKenzie is in charge with a goal of performing well in the next World Cup.
Slowly but surely Ewen McKenzie is restoring the faith with his no-nonsense off-field approach, coupled with his tactically driven on-field game plans. To prove his point he has suspended a handful of players, dropped one of the worlds best, and altered both captaincy positions. In my opinion, it was all for the greater good.
While all of this was happening there were limited complaints from Wallaby fans, limited complaints from the press, and most importantly not even a hint of unrest amongst the playing group. If anything, the players are more behind McKenzie than any Wallaby coach in the last 10 years. McKenzie demands respect, and with this respect comes trust. The players now trust his decisions are what’s best for the team rather than narcissist driven, boardroom compliant agendas and selections based on spite.
The proof is in the pudding, losing 2 of the last 7 games, which included a corner-turning 41-33 point loss to the All-Blacks in New Zealand. All seven of these games where played outside of Australia, which is a magnificent effort.
A the start of this seven game period, I had wished that the international rugby season would just finish to save further embarrassment, now I wish it carried on for another seven games.
Some might argue that the victory against Wales is not significant because it was not against the All Blacks or the Springboks, but I do not buy into that. Some forget how hard it is to win on the Spring Tour in Europe. If it were that easy, we would win the ‘Grand-Slam’ every year. And to be fair, lets remember that against England some of the referring decisions were so horrible it would be no surprise to see the game investigated for possible match fixing.
While winning against Wales is obviously important, the manor in which the Wallabies went about their business was far more impressive. Hypothetically, if the Cooper sin-binning had resulted in an Australian loss, the team performance still would have left a smile on the face of their coaching staff.
His yellow card aside, Quade Cooper performed honourably in his 50th test. His defence was sound, kicking was on the money, and oozing with confidence we witnessed the resurrection of his excellent running game. Wales centre Scott Williams expressed his dismay in trying to defend against an inform Cooper;
“It is like chasing shadows. He is an outstanding player.”
Cooper seems to have found a balance he hasn’t had at international level before. McKenzie is resigned to the fact that with Quade Cooper’s brilliance comes the odd mistake driven by his enthusiasm, and its something he does not want to curb;
“We pushed a few too many passes at times but it’s always a balance – you don’t want to be telling people not to do things, but they’ve got to be judicious in their decision-making. It’s risk-reward.
“We probably pushed the risk a little bit at times but there’s some enthusiasm and I don’t want to dull that down.”
This level-headed appraisal is something Wallaby fans should be excited about.
Rugby Union is hardly a sport that can guarantee a teams fluid performance one week warrants a similar style the next. Negative tactics are too often associated with the game, and only the supreme sides (All-Blacks) are not affected; which is a testament to their magnificent all-round game.
McKenzie was one of few coaches in the Super XV that adapted his sides’ game week-to-week based on the strengths and weakness of the opposition. Ewen will know his Wallaby team must be ready for forward dominated games, in particular at the next world cup in England, but effectively applying a brilliant brand of running rugby is much harder to instil.
We would be daft to think that the Wallabies will perform in the same manor they did against Wales in all future test matches. However, the Wallabies should be confident that if they are coaxed into and end-to-end thriller, they have the skills, mental toughness and world-class players to help them get over the line. A mentality that seemed non-existent over the last 4 – 5 years.
With the McKenzie revolution slowly building, I am sure he and the coaching staff would be very happy with the ahead-of-schedule progression. The team inherited mid-year was an absolute shambles, by-far the worst Wallabies side I have seen in my 15 or so years of watching international rugby, both on and off the field. Link has also done it with predominately the same group of players at his disposal, albeit with a few changes to key personal. It could be argued while McKenzie has displayed he is a more than able coach; it further emphasises Robbie Deans lack of ability.
It’s exciting to think that McKenzie will have a full season to etch his ideals on Australian Rugby in 2014 and further develop this group of players. For me, next International season cannot come quick enough.
In Link we trust.