Wallabies First Tri Nations Cab Out of the Rank
Historically regarded as a team that takes time to warm to a test season, it was a portentous performance from the Wallabies in what will be an arduous 2009 for the Australians.
Gruelling not so much for the 14 more tests matches that they have to play, but more for the fact that Robbie Deans will raise the bar considerably higher for the expectations of his team.
Deans has made it no secret that he thought that the Wallabies should have beaten the All Blacks on two occasions, in Brisbane and Hong Kong last year.
While it was a solid season, the five losses, especially the thumping suffered at the end of the Tri Nations by the Springboks, would be considered only a basic pass mark by the five time Super rugby title winning Coach.
So we now move to 2009, and while we are still to see the World Champions and current Tri Nations and Bledisloe Cup holders this year, the Wallabies have unveiled a performance which one could imagine ticked all of Dean’s boxes.
The Barbarians though were a major disappointment.
While on paper it was an astounding team, one witnessed a cadre of aging superstars, who seemed to be focused on anything but a test match class performance.
The Baa-baas methodology is that of being relaxed, playing open free spirited, and gentlemen’s rugby. While it was going to a clear cliché of watching a team of champions, rather than a champion team, there were few dominant performances from such a hyped up invitational side.
For all of the good performances, there was a glaring negative aspect to each individual Barbarians game.
Sonny Bill Williams showed glimpses of his potential, but the simple reality was that most Wallaby tries were scored through his midfield channel.
Luke McAlister continually looked to overplay his hand, trying to win the game by himself, and clearly feeling the eyes of the All Black selectors on him.
And others, like Jerry Collins, looked as if they have been living the good life of the French Riviera for too long.
As the game played out, the glaring remark by returning All Black Chris Jack came to mind, that the game in Europe is notches below the requirement of a Southern Hemisphere test player.
And as the Wallabies showed, rugby is a team game, and the cohesion and coordination of both the offensive and defensive structures of the Australians was of a different class.
There was no factor, statistically or otherwise, that suggested an even contest.
There are world class players in the Wallaby line up, such as Stirling Mortlock, Matt Giteau and George Smith, as well as veterans such as Al Baxter and Nathan Sharpe. But outside of this there are still men finding their feet at rugby’s top level, in terms of both age and test experience
But there is intensity and a sense of being primed that has not been seen by Australian teams for some time, far beyond that of either the Eddie Jones or John Connelly era.
It is still a long way off from being compared to the most successful age in Australian rugby, under the watchful eye of Rod McQueen.
At the end of his reign in 2001, the Wallabies had their second World Cup, were in the fourth year of a five year Bledisloe sovereignty, and had just won back to back Tri Nations crowns.
But the hunger and professionalism of this Wallabies team is there, and it is absolutely crystal as to the intentions of the Captain and Coach.
Mortlock, who had an outstanding match in his “traditional” position, despite playing at inside centre and wing in the last year, and any concerns that his position was under threat were completely unfounded.
"I thought our intent was clear for the first 15 or so minutes, we were very effective at the breakdown at the tackle area and we set the standard from their onwards." Mortlock said.
It defined exactly what he was seeking from his troops.
For when a rugby team dominates at the breakdown and the tackle area, inevitably they will win the game.
Equally Deans identified the one area that concerned him last year, and the key factor that allowed the All Blacks to finish 2008 as the world’s premier team.
"The guys played to the end ... and that's going to be something we'll be keen to take forward with us," Deans said.
If the Wallabies can execute a complete 80 minute performance like this against the incoming Azzuri and Tri Colours, then their Tri Nations foes will be wary indeed.
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