6 Things Ewen McKenzie Must Improve for Australia's Championship Campaign

Terence O'RorkeContributor IAugust 27, 2013

6 Things Ewen McKenzie Must Improve for Australia's Championship Campaign

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    It has been a tough baptism to international rugby for new Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie and a tough start to the 2013 Rugby Championship for his Australia side

    Two convincing losses to the All Blacks, though last weekend's was not so convincing on the scoreboard, and a hammering by the British & Irish Lions, suggests all is not rosy in the Wallabies camp. 

    McKenzie was brought in to replace Robbie Deans, who clearly had issues in terms of his relationships with certain players. Losing consecutive games to the All Blacks is no disgrace but Australia simply cannot afford to go down when they host South Africa in Brisbane in round three of the Rugby Championship. 

    Another loss, which is quite possible, would extend their losing run to four and leave them with just one win from their last six games.

    Quite simply, they must win, and here are six areas they must improve to make that a reality.

Front-Row Scrummaging

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    Decent scrummagers do not grow on trees, as the Wallabies are finding out to their detriment.

    Australia have long struggled when it comes to scrum time and why they have not invested more in this area in recent years is anyone's guess. 

    They were hammered up front by the Lions, and they were severely lacking again on Saturday against the All Blacks. And this is not a recent problem as this clip from their match against Wales last year shows.

    One has to assume that McKenzie, a former Wallabies prop of real class, knows a thing or two about the front row and therefore knows who his first choices should be. 

    But clearly Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore and James Slipper are not cutting the mustard at scrum time, and nor was Benn Robinson when he played instead of Slipper against the Lions.

    And things are only likely to get tougher under the new engagement laws which make it hard for weak scrummagers to con the referee. 

    Whatever it takes, McKenzie must get his first-choice front-row operating better in the scrums. And not just for this Rugby Championship; the front-rows of their World Cup group opponents England and Wales must be licking their chops at the prospect.

Discover Their Cutting Edge

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    There was a time not so long ago when the Wallabies were considered to have the most penetrative back line in world rugby. Players such as Will Genia, Quade Cooper, James O'Connor, Kurtley Beale and Digby Ioane were capable of opening up any defence with their deadly speed and footwork. 

    Ioane may be out with injury but the recent introduction of Israel Folau adds another attacking weapon to the Wallabies back line. 

    Well, despite one or two quality tries this summer, the Wallabies have failed to attack with their usual swagger and affect. The bullish selection of winger O'Connor by Deans at fly-half for the Lions series can explain some of the problems, but now that McKenzie has opted for proper fly-halves in Matt Toomua and Quade Cooper, the Wallabies must start to fire. 

    Perhaps, as a growing number of Wallabies fans suspect, some of these star backs have had their heads turned by off-field shenanigans to such an extent that they will never be the same force again.

Make Better Use of Possession

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    Australia showed against the Lions in the first two Tests that they have the capacity to control the ball, to retain possession for long periods and put opponents under severe pressure. 

    They did it again on Saturday against the All Blacks, as Rajiv Maharaj of the Guardian explains:

    In many ways, Australia would have been more demoralised by the showing in Wellington than last week's bumbling effort as they never once looked like winning despite dominating key statistics – 60 per cent possession, running metres (611m to 426m), fewer missed tackles (14 to 16), and rucks and mauls (80 to 50).  

    What Australia are not doing is securing the points that such possession should guarantee. They must find ways of turning that possession into points

    England's 2003 World Cup-winning side under Clive Woodward had a simple philosophy: to come away with points every time they entered opponents' 22. Step up Jonny Wilkinson; if a try was not on he would bang over a drop goal. 

    An ability to accumulate points is something the Wallabies need to master.

    There is more than one way to skin a rugby-playing cat.

Tighten Up Defense

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    Australia have conceded 12 tries in their last three games, four in the third Test to the Lions, and six and two respectively in their back-to-back defeats to the All Blacks. 

    Take a look at All Black Ben Smith's hat-trick in the Rugby Championship opener and it is clear that the Wallabies were at fault in all three.

    No international team is going to win more games than they lose if they concede tries at such a rate. That equates to at least 20 points in tries, and that's before the additions of conversions, penalties and drop goals. 

    An effective defence, as much as any system, takes times to develop, and the Wallabies need theirs to be operating at a much higher level for the remainder of the Rugby Championship.

Release Quade Cooper

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    Having recalled Cooper to the Wallabies squad, McKenzie must now start him at No. 10 and give him the freedom and responsibility to get Australia's backs firing again. 

    McKenzie is known as a smart operator and he must show confidence in his Queensland playmaker and the side's ability to produce something a little different. 

    The Wallabies have made little headway despite plenty of ball and territory in their losses to the All Blacks, so why not give Cooper more chance to produce a little magic. 

    Toomua started the first two matches and is proving to be a solid, reliable player. However, it's time to give the maverick Cooper a proper chance. If it does not go according to plan, then bring on Toomua for a more structured approach.

    But start by looking for the magic that Cooper can definitely bring.

    Wallabies legend John Eales thinks it is worth considering judging from his piece in The Age:

    One consideration McKenzie must weigh up in that time is whether to continue with Matt Toomua as the starting five-eight or to trial Quade Cooper on his home ground. Toomua has been very good and stepped up his decision-making but he hasn't yet cemented his position. One thing is clear though, these two five-eighths are the best two Test match options available for the Wallabies.

Forget the All Blacks

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    There is no point Australia spending too long beating themselves up over the defeats to New Zealand. 

    They were poor in the first Test, much improved in the second and unlucky with the referee's decisions

    But most of all, they must remember they were up against the All Blacks, who rarely lose and appear to have improved as a side since claiming the 2011 World Cup. 

    Yes, the Wallabies face a mighty challenge next up against South Africa, but the Springboks are a team in development.

    As they showed by just sneaking past Argentina last weekend, they are some way from matching the All Blacks when it comes to consistency of performanceand killing opposition ball

    Australia have enough talent to win their remaining games of the Rugby Championship, and McKenzie will be busy boosting confidence ahead of the visit of South Africa.