Rugby Championship
Wallabies can't afford another loss - Brendan Cannon
Andy Withers
September 4, 2014
"I don't think the Wallabies have a single forward who strikes fear into the opposition," Brendan Cannon says © Getty Images

Brendan Cannon on James Hanson

© Getty Images
  • "I texted him on Tuesday night and told him regardless of how the opportunity has come about, he is the best hooker in Australia on the night. He's just got to go out there and enjoy the occasion, to focus on the basics: throw in accurately at the lineout and put pressure through the scrum because if you don't do that you're not doing your job; and if you're not doing that you can't contribute in the loose because you're tired."

Brendan Cannon has rarely, if ever, been as concerned about the Wallabies as he is now, in the wake of their black night at Eden Park. The team travelled to Auckland with a justifiable degree of hope after the draw in Sydney the previous week extended their undefeated run to eight matches; and they should have beaten their fiercest rivals in Sydney - they had opportunities, not least that their opponents played with 14 men for 20 minutes - but the hope and confidence built in players and fans alike drained in the 80-minute nightmare that was their effort in New Zealand.

"It was an insipid performance," Cannon told ESPN exclusively. "They were clearly second-best in all aspects of the game. They looked tired, and it was so disappointing because everything until the Auckland effort suggested the Wallabies were improving, and we were looking forward to them making a statement; the world was watching, and was ready for them to make a statement, and they failed totally. I have rarely been so disappointed with the Wallabies as I was in Auckland."

Cannon, the former Wallabies hooker who tallied 45 Tests after debuting off the bench against the 2001 British & Irish Lions in Melbourne, was particularly disappointed by the lack of physicality shown by the forwards in Auckland. Asked for his opinion of ESPN columnist Greg Growden's statement that Australia needed an "injection of sheer might and mongrel … after the All Blacks comprehensively minced the Wallabies pack in Auckland", Cannon said "I agree with everything 'Growdo' has said".

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"I don't think the Wallabies have a single forward who strikes fear into the opposition," Cannon said, noting the absence of an enforcer - and noting the impact of one such player on Super Rugby-winning Waratahs, Jacques Potgieter. "It was frightening to watch how he put his body on the line, and his team-mates followed him. The Wallabies don't have a player like him."

Cannon also lamented that the Wallabies give away "too many penalties", saying the infringements mark not only a lack of discipline but also a lack of thought for the team culture and trust in defensive patterns. "Penalties give teams an easy way out of pressure, or any easy way to score points, and poor discipline is a reflection of people not buying the team ethic because they're trying to do too much themselves," he said.

Ruck'n Maul: Wallabies selections 'bewildering'

Discipline can be improved, however, and it is often a reflection of confidence and energy levels as much as a dumb act. Get on the front foot, deliver good ball, score a try or two and suddenly a team doesn't feel the need to infringe. Suddenly the world is a brighter place.

Cannon does not believe all is lost for the Wallabies, although he's not sure coach Ewen McKenzie can accurately label the Auckland performance an "aberration".

"The Wallabies are still a young playing group, and inexperienced group, and you get consistency only with experience. That's why these Wallabies at the minute can give you rocks and diamonds. Ewen will have spoken this week about being honest, about accepting personal responsibility, and about learning from what went wrong [in Auckland]. The Wallabies have to stand up: they'll show they're a good team if they win, because good teams bounce back after performances like that in Auckland; but if they don't then a lot of the good work has been undone, the momentum built up will have been lost, and we'll be questioning ourselves."

HSBC Rugby ambassador Brendan Cannon is happy to see Bernard Foley back in the No.10 jumper © Getty Images

Brendan Cannon on Kurtley Beale

  • "I was critical of the selection of Kurtley Beale at 10 for New Zealand because he's played so little football there. Yes he's played in second-phase and broken-field play for the Waratahs, but that's not the same as starting. The 10 orchestrates your play, and so much of the Waratahs' success this year was built on the 9-10-12 combination that I was very surprised Bernard Foley was dropped. I'm glad to see him back, and I think you'll see a lot more midfield punch this week against South Africa. The Wallabies threatened the All Blacks so little in midfield, and that's because it's so hard to do when you five-eighth's first move is to go laterally.
  • "I'm concerned also by the effect benching has on Kurtley. It's diificult. I think Ewen has eaten a little bit of humble pie in selecting Bernard Foley. What message does the benching send to Kurtley.
  • "Given his form at 12 for New South Wales, and his combination with Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley, it would not have surprised me to see him selected at 12 against the Springboks. It'll be interesting where he plays when he comes off the bench."

Cannon says also the Wallabies are advantaged by knowing how the Springboks will play, even if commentators in South Africa such as Mark Keohane for sarugbymag have written off the tourists: "Giants on paper, their on-field performance lacks an imposing a presence … some players appear jaded, some appear empty in performance, some are out of form, some are just returning from long-term injury and the odd one is adapting to international rugby."

The Springboks will bring "brutal physicality", Cannon said. "They always do."

And while commentators in South Africa, such as Rob Houwing for Sport24, have suggested "the possibility must exist that some forwards have been spooked by the undignified way they were either run backwards by the Bajada or left in a crumpled heap … some pundits say, and perhaps not without justification, that it was the worst pounding they've ever seen by a Bok eight in the department:, Cannon believes the visiting pack, refreshed with the inclusion of Victor Matfield among four changes up front, "will be well prepared after a very tough test against Argentina".

"They have a brilliant lineout, and they clean out the rucks well. This will be tough. The Wallabies can win, but it will be tough."

South Africa were stretched to breaking point by Argentina © Getty Images

Brendon Cannon spoke to ESPN courtesy of HSBC, for whom he is a rugby ambassador. HSBC, the world's leading international bank, is proud to partner with the Wallabies. HSBC shares the ARU's ambitions to grow and constantly strive for success. Follow HSBC Rugby on Twitter at @HSBC_Rugby

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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