The Growden Report
Pathetic: no brains, no balls, no ticker
August 25, 2014
Bernard Foley and Scott Higginbotham must start against South Africa, Greg Growden writes © Getty Images
From the ultimate lost opportunity in Sydney to a diabolical lost weekend in Auckland, and all the momentum, all the genuine excitement in the Australian football scene, generated by New South Wales Waratahs' spectacular Super Rugby title triumph has evaporated due to the failings of the Wallabies.
Australian rugby yet again is stuck under a ghastly big black cloud, and the only rugby trophy that really interests the nation is gone for another season - the 12th season in a row.
That's exasperating enough, but making the situation so infuriating is the way the Wallabies gave in so easily when confronted by the All Blacks, who only had to wield a bit of muscle at Eden Park to have the desired effect of seeing their opponents quiver in fright and almost pray for forgiveness.
New Zealand 51-20 Australia (video available only in Australia)
51-20: The Wallabies have suffered some pretty dreadful losses in recent times, but few have been as insipid and so lacking in character as that on Saturday night. It's not quite as bad as 1997, when the Wallabies put up the white flag against the Springboks in Pretoria; their 61-22 drubbing at Loftus Versfeld resulted in Wallabies coach Greg Smith being shown the door. But, really, what the Wallabies dished up in Auckland wasn't that much better.
Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie's team was clueless until he remembered at last that he had a bench of players he could use. There was no urgency in their play. The moment got to them. They were lethargic, sometimes just appearing to be going through the motions. McKenzie was being nice after the game when he said his players were "passive".
Pathetic, more like it, especially as the same out-of-their depth players fell into the trap of publicly pumping up their chances before the Test, giving the All Blacks the required motivation to smack them down unceremoniously.
In such circumstances, it wasn't hard for the All Blacks to nullify the supposed big Wallabies threats. New Zealand played as a team - always having two or three players in support, whereas the Wallabies were constantly isolated.
The Wallabies can only dream of holding the Bledisloe Cup, Greg Growden says © Getty Images
Israel Folau really tried, as did the 1997 Wallabies fullback, Stephen Larkham, during the Loftus Versfeld debacle. Folau was the only player worthy of points in the latest Greg Growden Medal count. But what hope did he have of making any impact when he found after busting through the All Blacks' defence that he found he had absolutely no support?
A lot of this angst could have also been avoided if the Wallabies had just used their brains the previous week. Poor leadership saw them waste opportunities for crucial points via penalty and field goals against the All Blacks, which would have won them the Sydney Test.
A week later, here was the chance to show they could actually think clearly under pressure. Instead we witnessed a replay of Dumb and Dumber.
The stark contrast between the teams' respective off-field operations was also on show during the Test. Steve Hansen, like Graham Henry before him, has ensured he has a strong and formidable brains trust around him. They sit shoulder to shoulder in the coach's box, priding themselves in showing the All Blacks are powerful in all departments. McKenzie, whenever he was sighted on camera, was by himself, save an unknown next to him who was tapping into a laptop. His assistants were elsewhere.
Now McKenzie is under serious threat of isolating himself, at a disconcerting time when the Australian Rugby Union, due to reported budget woes, have rid themselves of so much intellectual property. Countless wise staff members from numerous departments with vast rugby knowledge have been forced to leave the union; it's bare bones stuff now, and it really shows.
New Zealand's Aaron Smith had a fine game behind a dominant All Blacks pack © Getty Images
To regain credibility, McKenzie must make tough decisions. He also requires formidable, experienced people around him who will question him. One can be sure that when Henry was in charge of the All Blacks that his wily assistants, Hansen and Wayne Smith, weren't always 'yes' men.
What is imperative is that McKenzie ensures different individuals run out in the No.8, No.9 and No.10 jerseys when they play South Africa in a fortnight's time.
The Wallabies looked so much better when Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley came onto the field in the second half. Nic White needs more than an Angry Ant routine before the All Blacks will take him seriously, while Kurtley Beale struggled with the lack of space at No 10. And Wycliff Palu, for the umpteenth time, was overshadowed by the All Blacks; Scott Higginbotham's aggression at No 8 is desperately needed.
The Wallabies could easily finish last in the Rugby Championship if they don't watch themselves, as Argentina, as shown against South Africa over the past two weekends, possess a dynamic scrum that could massacre the Wallabies. The Springboks also have the spirit and belief to expose Australia exactly as the All Blacks did.
So much for the great Australian rugby revival; instead it now has the potential of going right off the rails.
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