Analysis: Wallabies at the peak of delusion
Trying to speak things into existence can be seen as having unwavering faith or complete delusion depending on how you look at it. For the Wallabies and Rugby Australia, this is what they have resorted to, and this is the perspective they must realise.
As the ship sinks, they continue to see the mast protruding through the water’s surface and speak of its ability to hold the sail. Never mind the completely submerged hull.
This ship is only going to go to one place, no matter what you want to say.
Michael Cheika and Michael Hooper have reached the peak of this delusion, optimistically speaking of ‘good footy’, ‘improvement’ and ‘opportunities not taken’ in their post-match press conference after the recent defeat against the Springboks. Whether they hold different opinions in private is unknown, but it’s time to stop with this nonsense in public.
The Wallabies are in a state, a bad one, and this isn’t going to be fixed anytime soon.
They are so far behind it is sad to see. This team doesn’t resemble anything close to an elite professional rugby team, lacking simple draw and pass skills, handling skills, cleaning out skills, line running, the conditioning levels required of some positional units (specifically the tight five), not to mention a shared cognitive understanding of what they are trying to do.
It’s not the losing, it’s how they are losing.
If you want to ignore the processes that make up a rugby game and fail to understand why they are so bad, just accept that a loss is a loss and continue to wonder why this keeps happening. If you want to take the red pill so to speak, continue on.
We detailed just how much the All Blacks have evolved since the last World Cup here, cutting out inefficiency during phase play by implementing advanced, organised patterns to counteract zero ruck strategies and improved defence. This found efficiency with numbers in attack enabling them to throw more complexity at the opposition.
Ireland has also mastered this style of play and this has been, in part, reflected in their rise to number two in the world rankings. This Wallabies team doesn’t have any idea how to run a pattern, effectively playing pre-2015 rugby.
How many Wallabies does it take it clear a ruck? Six, apparently. Throw in a seventh guy to pass the ball for good measure.
This is all you need to see to know the Wallabies have no idea what is happening on each phase, with no system in place to methodically break down a defence and retain possession like a clinical team.
The collective rugby IQ of this team is close to zero. It is effectively a bunch of headless chooks, frantically scrambling around with no idea how to function as a unit. When you add in the sub-standard skills it becomes a complete dumpster fire.
This is what happens on the next phase. With seven players involved in the last ruck, Dane Haylett-Petty takes a run into the teeth of the Springbok forwards with no support.
The three closest players are South Africa’s loose forwards. No award for guessing what happens next, Haylett-Petty is penalised for holding on.
This is isn’t a one-off occurrence, at nearly every ruck there are ‘ruck inspectors’, guys who have no clue as to what they should be doing and have come to have a good look at the breakdown. Hand out the clipboards and hardhats.
The lack of any organised play inevitably leads to aimless kicking to try and find some stability, at the expense of keeping the ball in hand.
Cheika talks of how his team plays attacking rugby and how they throw the ball around. It’s disorganised rugby. It’s amateur rugby. It’s dumb rugby. The Wallabies whip the ball around but are so technically poor in so many areas that it’s dysfunctional, and most of the time it amounts to nothing before they kick the ball away.
You can find problems on literally every phase.
A simple carry by Adam Coleman (5) starts with a sloppy setup. Izack Rodda (4) is in front of the ball carrier, ruling out an inside tip and Ned Hanigan (6) is running to the outside but isn’t in sync with him.
Coleman isn’t looking to pass and Hanigan overruns him expecting it, leaving himself with a poor angle for the clean out. Rodda has assisted on the tackle for the Springboks, running into Coleman from the side. He will end up on the ground with the ball carrier giving South Africa a chance to contest the ball in a comical botch-up.
Here we see Wallabies hooker Folau Fainga’a setting up and calling for a carry. Despite being about five metres too deep, halfback Will Genia fires an unexpected ball to Scott Sio on his left.
It’s nothing short of shambolic, yet the captain and coach preach about how this is good footy and how they are proud of the efforts of the players. They are either delusional or lying, one of the two.
Australia is now seventh in the world rugby rankings – their worst ever ranking – three spots ahead of Fiji, a union with 1/100 of the resources of Rugby Australia. This is effectively rock bottom for a two-time World Champion.
This situation requires drastic action but the good thing is, being at or near rock bottom means you can make massive changes without too much pain – it’s pretty hard to get worse.
All courses of action need to be on the table for Rugby Australia, even the most extreme of measures.
Over half of the current Wallabies team would have a market value of approximately $15,000-$30,000 in New Zealand, the world’s number one team, equivalent to what they would make for a Mitre 10 Cup team. A few would be lucky to even make that cut.
Rugby Australia can afford to let eighty percent of these players walk to take up overseas contracts and continue to get the same results they are getting now. Should they do this? It is extreme but this is a dire situation, freeing up cash that can be deployed for a rebuild.
Here is the reality check for Australia’s professional players – when you are marginally better than Fiji as a team, you shouldn’t be getting paid anywhere near six figures. The Fijian national players sure don’t.
The only two worth paying big contracts for are David Pocock, who continues to be the only world-class player in the team, and Israel Folau, who has world-class athleticism and could be shaped into a better player with coaching. Everyone else is expendable. Everyone else.
One of the arguments for keeping Cheika on is a lack of suitable candidates to replace him. Whilst firing Cheika won’t immediately turn around the results, it is clear the current coaches are unable to take this squad any further.
In a previous generation, Australian coaches like Cheika make the pilgrimage to the Northern Hemisphere to impart their knowledge. Now the time has come for the reverse to happen, Rugby Australia needs to look for Europe’s best and could do worse than looking to Ireland who has built the world’s second-best team from the provincial level up.
Cheika is a passionate man who bleeds green and gold, and you know he will be the last man on board, committed to the very end. He has publicly stated he will step down as coach, if the Wallabies don’t win the World Cup, so that gives Rugby Australia roughly 12 months to plan for a successor.
At all levels Rugby Australia has failed and needs to consider hitting the reset button, rebuilding from the ground up, and unfortunately, there will be collateral damage.
By Ben Smith, RugbyPass
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