David Long wrote in one of New Zealand’s Sunday papers that “the Wallabies’ next game is against the Wallabies…” It was a typo, but never has a truer word been written. At the moment Australia are beating themselves before they have even run onto the pitch.
Yes, Australia are missing a number of key players at the moment, but they are also missing something far more important. For all the Aussie swagger and larrikin, the current group of players is lacking belief. They are playing like a side that is down on itself. After all the golden years it has not been a good few months for the Aussies across most sports and the rugby team is playing like a side on a downer.
Attack is more than an attitude – it’s a mood, and the mood that informs the best attacks is OPTIMISM. The Wallabies have been bullish off the field leading into this Rugby Championship. Many of their players have spoken at length at becoming the number one ranked team in the world. This optimism hasn’t been backed up on the field. They lack positivity and confidence in attack. Their biggest tests now are against themselves
The biggest contrast between the All Blacks and Wallabies is not attitude or character. The Aussies put their bodies on the line for their country at the weekend. They hit New Zealand hard throughout the match. The biggest difference is belief in their attack and a clear strategy to implement it.
The offloads statistic from this game tells a story. 25-2 to the All Blacks. It is a story of belief, trust and optimism, and the ending was a happy one for New Zealanders. Time and again, the All Blacks sent runners in to the fray only for them to pass and create a point of contact elsewhere.
Ball carriers consequently won collisions which enabled them to keep the ball alive by offloading to support players who noticeably worked harder to get behind the ball this week. It also meant they got super fast ball if the offload wasn’t on. In contrast, the Wallabies’ forwards tried to smash through All Black defenders who were waiting for them and consequently lost the collisions, failed to keep the ball alive and had to play off slow ball.
The other area where there is a marked difference in attitude is counter attack. Ball received from opposition kicks is a massively important possession source in today’s game. The All Blacks see this as an opportunity, the Wallabies see it as a threat.
Getting caught in their own territory when running a kick back seems to be anathema to Australia. They prefer to boot it back and hope that the opposition make a mistake. Bob Dwyer once described that as a miserable way to play rugby. I wonder what he thinks of the current Wallaby playing style.
I also wonder what Bob thinks about the discipline of some of the younger players. There is huge accountability and responsibility among this group of young All Blacks. Australia set that tone in in the nineties,winning two World Cups. This current group needs to find that formula again.
Young All Blacks are starting to establish their own legacy in the jersey. The All Blacks performances in the first two matches haven’t been complete, but they threatened to be. There is pride and a sense of history coursing through the veins of this team. New Zealand will take some stopping.