Pretty much on the money again Spiro

Wallabies can't waste momentum

Spiro Zavos
Tuesday, July 3, 2007


Two emails from readers provide insights into the Wallabies' fascinating victory over the All Blacks at the MCG on Saturday night. "The All Blacks won the Haka!" according to a New Zealand correspondent.

"O'Neill is back: Australia wins. Simple," suggests an Australian reader. There is something in this, but the equation is not quite as simple as that. The fact John O'Neill is back in the CEO's chair at the ARU probably concentrated the minds of the Wallabies coaching staff and those of some senior players.

O'Neill has a history of acting decisively when a national team is playing poorly. In 1997, after a terrible Tri Nations campaign, Wallabies coach Greg Smith was replaced by Rod Macqueen. This was a decisive move towards winning the 1999 World Cup.

And, when he was CEO at Football Federation Australia, O'Neill pulled the same trick by recruiting Guus Hiddink to get the Socceroos to the World Cup finals. At a speech to 1200 guests at the Carbine Club in Melbourne last Friday, O'Neill stated Australian rugby would be back on track when the Wallabies started beating the All Blacks regularly.

This assertion gives a clue to his performance-oriented approach to management, which contrasts starkly with the process-based approach of the previous ARU administration.

The statistics of the Test show that both sides had equal possession and that the Wallabies played 55 per cent of the match in All Blacks territory. This confirms the point made afterwards by Richie McCaw that the All Blacks played, or tried to play, too much rugby in their own half.

The Wallabies conceded nine penalties and two free kicks; the All Blacks conceded 10 penalties and four free kicks. On these stats, the All Blacks can count themselves unfortunate to have had Carl Hayman yellow-carded for persistent killing of the ball in the rucks.

They were clearly disadvantaged, too, by the rulings of referee Marius Jonker at the scrum. The only time the All Blacks went for an early push, Jonker penalised them. But he let the Wallabies go early and allowed George Gregan to hold back the scrum feed with impunity on several occasions.

I believe South Africa coach Jake White is right when he says the Wallabies scrum is still very fragile. It will be interesting to see what happens on Saturday night against the Springboks (who don't have a good scrum, either) when Kiwi referee Paul Honiss, who understands scrumming, gets his chance to look at how the Wallabies cope with their scrum deficiencies.

Another interesting aspect of the Wallabies' play was that their back line started to make inroads when Matt Giteau was at halfback and Scott Staniforth at inside-centre. A Giteau-Larkham-Staniforth-Mortlock combination has a decisive, penetrative look to it. But Gregan is without peer at nursing his pack through its scrum difficulties. His chat to referees can prove decisive.

"They always kill the ball under pressure," he called to Jonker early in the Test. Was this in the official's mind when he yellow-carded Hayman? Or earlier, when he penalised the All Blacks for killing the ball 45m out when, according to him, the Wallabies were in a try-scoring position?

Winning the World Cup is all about having momentum going into the tournament. White is so terrified of his starting side losing again that he has held it back from touring. This is the opposite of what Clive Woodward did in 2003, when the England coach took his No.1 side to New Zealand and Australia with the intention of winning Tests away from Twickenham. England did just that, and had the psychological advantage going into the World Cup.

All of which makes Saturday's Test a difficult one for the Wallabies. They played a tremendous 60 minutes against the Springboks in Durban, and an outstanding 20 minutes against the All Blacks at the MCG. Now they are confronted with the second-string Springboks, who have nothing to lose if they are defeated and everything to gain if they win.

These matches are called Tests because that is what they are. With only two more before the World Cup, it is vital the Wallabies maintain the momentum gained so unexpectedly in Melbourne.