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Thread: Light at end of Wallabies' 2009 tunnel

  1. #1
    Immortal Contributor
    travelling_gerry's Avatar
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    Light at end of Wallabies' 2009 tunnel

    AAP, The West Australian December 15, 2009, 8:12 am

    Getty Images / David Rogers

    A first defeat to lowly Scotland in 27 years, four more losses to New Zealand - making it a sorry seven straight - last place in the Tri Nations, three wins from their past 11 Tests and no Australian franchise in the Super 14 finals.

    Yet the Wallabies remain among the favourites to hoist the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Go figure.

    But that is the extraordinary truth after Australian rugby's leanest season of the 14-year professional era.

    While the short-sighted point to the ill-fated grand slam campaign as further evidence the Wallabies are lagging behind perennial world powers New Zealand and South Africa, the end-of-season tour of Britain and Ireland in reality proved a resounding success.

    Success should not be judged on results alone.

    Besides, one one-point loss from six matches, including Tests against England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales on consecutive weekends for the first time in 25 years, is hardly an unmitigated disaster.

    Yes, the 9-8 humbling in Edinburgh was difficult for fans to swallow - but even more so for vanquished captain Rocky Elsom, who looked to have scored a match-winning second-half try that ultimately would have meant the 2009 Wallabies became the first Australian travelling team in a century to complete an unbeaten grand slam tour.

    It's a fine line, especially for the most-maligned national sporting team in Australia.

    Unless the Wallabies are winning week in, week out, they are seen as flops.

    To Australia's rivals, though, coach Robbie Deans is the envy of the international rugby world.

    Classy 21-year-olds Will Genia and David Pocock may well be the world's premier players in their respective - and key - positions with another 20-odd Tests under their belts by 2011, while 25-year-old loosehead prop Benn Robinson already is.

    All up, the average age of the Wallabies line-up for the year-ending rout of Wales at Millennium Stadium was just 24, with Elsom and long-time match-winners Matt Giteau and second-half injection George Smith providing the necessary experience.

    Throw in the likes of outstanding teenage utility James O'Connor, plus Digby Ioane and Quade Cooper - who proved a revelation as an untried centre pairing in the absence of Stirling Mortlock and Berrick Barnes - and Kurtley Beale as the 17th player Deans has introduced to the Test arena and the Wallabies coach looks blessed with backline talent.

    But Australia's greatest strength, strangely enough, lay in the forwards.

    With Wycliff Palu back firing and Elsom and Pocock also among the form players on the Spring tour, there's no longer room in the back row for 109-Test veteran Smith.

    Up front, with Robinson joining forces with converted tighthead Ben Alexander and powerhouse hookers Stephen Moore and Tatafu Polota-Nau, the Wallabies scrum, after years of derision, is now winning front-foot ball for Genia and Giteau and co to work their magic.

    The emergence of Genia, who started 2009 as Queensland's reserve halfback, was arguably the single most important development of the year for the Wallabies.

    It was no coincidence Australia's first and only Tri Nations victory came in game five against South Africa when Genia was handed his maiden Test start.

    The Papua New Guinea-born No.9 continued to deliver in a man-of-the-match display at Twickenham before signing off his rookie international season with another five-star performance against Wales.

    Regardless of whether Deans chooses to play Giteau - the 2009 John Eales Medallist and world player of the year nominee - or Barnes at five-eighth next season, the Wallabies attack should continue to improve with the razor sharp Genia inside giving his twin playmakers added time and space.

    Despite a modest return of six wins, a draw and seven losses from 14 Tests in '09, Deans has every reason to feel optimistic about the final two years of his reign.

    It's worth noting that two years prior to their previous World Cup triumphs in 1991 and 1999 the Wallabies also endured similarly difficult seasons.

    In '89, Australia were two from six and in the midst of a run of seven losses from nine Tests against the All Blacks.

    In '97, the Wallabies won just six from 12 Tests and suffered a 61-22 hammering at the hands of the Springboks in Pretoria.

    Rome wasn't - and World Cup-winning teams aren't - built in a day and Deans is rightly ever hopeful after exposing so many youngbloods while also preserving Australia's ranking inside the world's top three.

    "There were a lot of plusses in terms of players who have emerged off very little background," Deans said.

    "Players who are going to be genuine Test players and are going to serve Australia well for a long period of time. It is evident that this group has a really exciting future.

    "We've just got to add consistency which comes with experience. Obviously, when you look at the profile of the group, it's a remarkably young group and they are learning in the toughest arena."

    As one Wallabies insider said after the sapping, last-minute 20-20 draw with Ireland in Dublin: "The deposit's in the bank. Who remembers results two years before the World Cup?"

    While the Wallabies appear on the up, the second-ranked Springboks seem in decline, their team of ageing stars ending an otherwise dominant 2009 with a series of dismal tour losses to English club sides Leicester and Saracens as well as to France and Ireland.

    After helping the Boks capture the Webb Ellis Cup and this year's Tri Nations trophy, key forwards Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha and skipper John Smit are all now on the wrong side of 30.

    As ever, in addition to a lack of depth at halfback, a shortage of back-up props and the absence of a world-class second row, Australia's greatest worry two years out from the seventh World Cup again looks to be the top-ranked New Zealanders.

    Seven successive losses to their trans-Tasman rivals cannot be good for self-belief, with newly-appointed vice-captain Barnes conceding before the last-up defeat in Tokyo ago that the continual beatings were starting to scar.

    After masterminding the drought-breaking win in South Africa last year, Deans's priority next season must be plotting Australia's first win in New Zealand since 2001.

    That would really leave the tournament hosts nervous come the World Cup.

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  2. #2
    Legend Contributor brokendown gunfighter's Avatar
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    well I hope there is light at the end of the 2009 tunnel,there's only a couple of weeks to go!

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  3. #3
    Veteran beige's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by brokendown gunfighter View Post
    well I hope there is light at the end of the 2009 tunnel,there's only a couple of weeks to go!
    The western calendar stops on December 31. That means it's the end of the world.

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  4. #4
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    "Digby Ioane and Quade Cooper - who proved a revelation"
    Might be overstating it just a tad, "glimpses of promise" may be more appropriate, but otherwise a good article.

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  5. #5
    Champion Contributor tragic's Avatar
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    Apr 2006
    ... between a rock and a bigger rock.
    Might depend on what sort of relevation they provided.

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    Success is not final, failure is not fatal:
    it is the courage to continue that counts.
    - Winston Churchill

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