Why can’t the Wallabies just learn their lessons eh? Mid week, only days after a memorable win against the Irish, it appears that several members of the squad headed out for some ‘leisure’ time – the end result being that six players have been given a one-match ban after consuming ‘inappropriate levels of alcohol’. There’s no doubt that the Wallabies have been through some trials and tribulations so far this year, and just when it seemed like they were starting to turn the corner under Ewen McKenzie, they seemingly head straight back to square one.
Before we begin the post mortem of that ‘inappropriate’ behaviour and some possible knock on effects, it’s important that we put the rugby first. With that in mind, let’s consider Australia’s game against Ireland.
The luck of the Irish ran out
The last time that these two sides faced each other was in the group stages of the Rugby World Cup, and the Wallabies, shorn of an openside threat were toothless at the breakdown, going down 15 points to 6 in a forgettable contest. It goes without saying that the Irish were cockahoop with the result, which is understandable given how well the Wallabies had been playing up until that point.
With that loss in mind, there’s no doubt that the Wallabies were extremely determined to get a result, and in the end, they simply blew the Irish away at the Aviva Stadium. Following on from their emphatic win against the Italians the week before, it was a pleasure to see the Wallabies keep up the momentum and deliver a performance full of running rugby and attack intent.
In terms of standouts, it must once again be noted that Quade Cooper makes a huge difference to this Wallaby side. His ability to run, find gaps and put his teammates into space makes him an incredibly valuable asset, and his influence on proceedings is perhaps only bettered in world rugby by Dan Carter.
The one slight black mark during the game was the sending off of Tevita Kuridrani; the centre being shown a red card after a tip tackle. Whilst the tackle didn’t look particularly damaging, there’s no doubt that this is the sort of tackle that must be eradicated from the game, and with that mind it was an understandable decision from referee Chris Pollock.
The infamous aftermath
This result was important for the Wallabies, as it represented a return to their successful playing style of 2011, and hinted that Ewen McKenzie might just be having the desired effect on this side. However, the evening following the victory was perhaps not what McKenzie had in mind, with several of his players make the decision to head out on a night out in Dublin. After consuming what McKenzie considered to be inappropriate levels of alcohol, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Nick Cummins, Liam Gill, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson and Paddy Ryan have all had a one-match ban imposed upon them.
What must be particularly worrying for McKenzie is that these are problems that have dogged the Australian rugby union team for quite some time. Kurtley Beale, Quade Cooper and James O’Connor have all been embroiled in off-the-field events, with Cooper having been charged with burglary whilst on a night out, O’Connor refused entry onto a plane due to intoxication and Beale forced to seek rehabilitation to combat his alcohol issues. This stigma has been attached to this Wallaby side for the last four years, and McKenzie would no doubt have been desperately hoping that these problems had been eradicated.
Second row James Horwill was quick to defend the Wallabies, suggesting that he didn’t believe that the Wallabies had a problem with a drinking culture, and that the negative press the Wallabies have received following Saturday’s incident is based on an individual event. Whilst Horwill’s reasons for suggesting this are no doubt sound, given the track record of plenty of the Wallabies players, one would have to suggest that his point of view is erroneous in this instance.
Saturday’s incident stamps a black mark on the Wallabies progress, but the best thing McKenzie and the team can do now is move on. Until next time.
Scotland up next
Before their showdown with Wales which will represent their last game of the season, the Wallabies have the not inconsiderable challenge of Scotland to look forward to on Saturday.
The Scots were not at their best last week, and were soundly beaten at Murrayfield by a strong South African side, but that doesn’t mean that the Wallabies will have it easy. Amazingly, Australia haven’t beaten Scotland since 2006, with the Scots winning the last two encounters between the sides. Although Scotland may be inferior to the Wallabies on paper, in recent years they have been able to close down the Wallaby attack and play percentage rugby, and as the results show, it’s been an effective way to defeat the Wallabies.
The Wallabies must try to play their usual game and get the ball wide and away from the Scottish forward pack. Scottish Director of Rugby Scott Johnson knows how Australia like to play, and he will be looking to limit the impact of the Wallaby backs by forcing Australia into an arm wrestle. For Australia, Quade Cooper could well be the key as the outside half has the ability to play the expansive game that the Scots hate to play against.
The weather was a key factor the last time the Scots beat Australia, as the rain lashed down and effectively turned the game into a 10-man rugby contest. This time, the forecast looks kinder to Australia, with no rain forecast at all on Saturday. This could end up being one of the principle factors that decides the contest, and with that in mind, Australia will be desperately hoping for a dry day.
Who’s going to win?
Despite their disciplinary problems and recent track record against Scotland, I’d certainly back Australia to win this one. This Scotland side should be respected, but ultimately when it comes down to it, the Wallabies possess a far stronger team and should record an emphatic victory. Nevertheless, if the rain sets in, it becomes a whole different game, and Ewen McKenzie must have a plan in place if he is to ensure the Wallaby revival continues.