To half of Ewen McKenzie’s new dressing room, the complaints about New Zealand cynically killing the ball will have had a familiar ring to them. As Reds coach, he accused them of doing the same thing for the Brumbies when Queensland hosted them in Brisbane in April. Innocents are hard to find in the professional game, regardless of whether they wear black, gold, red or white.
Finding the appropriate moment to park those complaints and move forwards can also be elusive but we are at that stage (if not already beyond it). The Wallabies have 10 more Tests this year and just two of those are at home. Seven wins are needed from those 10 just to finish the year with a positive winning percentage. The year has ceased to be about the All Blacks.
Confirmation of the Wallabies’ spring tour came over the weekend and it is a schedule that will only please the bank manager. Over five consecutive weekends in November, the Wallabies will face England, Italy, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. In years gone by, you might have wagered on two of the home unions being in some form of self-inflicted disarray while expecting a limited challenge from the Italians, who were obsessed with simply keeping down the score until they parted with Nick Mallett.
But while it appears Scotland might not secure the services of Kiwi coach Vern Cotter in time for their Murrayfield clash, Ireland’s appointment of his compatriots Joe Schmidt and John Plumtree (recently of the Sharks) signals a very tough game in Dublin and the Italians have a different, and more dangerous, outlook under Jacques Brunel.
England, and particularly Alex Corbisiero, would play their game tomorrow if asked and the Welsh have apparently placed some decent coin into Bill Pulver’s paws to ensure they get a chance at the southern hemisphere scalp they need as hard evidence they belong at the top table. For the Wallabies to go through that month unbeaten would be a heroic achievement and dropping just one game would be no calamity. The lack of a banker game in that itinerary is a reminder, once again, that Super Rugby and Tests are planets apart.
A return to the winners’ circle against the Springboks in two weeks (the Wallabies have not lost four consecutive Tests since 2009) is within the reach of this current squad. Too much can be read into frailties on show against the All Blacks: the Wallabies will not play another side this year that feasts so routinely on errors.
But there is work to do at the selection table to find the answers to a few fundamental questions. Have the Wallabies picked the right players – at the right stages of their Test careers – and have they picked the right players but in the wrong positions? The names start falling into place when you work that out.
Jesse Mogg was nowhere near as bad in Wellington as some have suggested. Some of his first-half work was good (and his second-half determination to kick away possession was merely following the same script as others). But he might not have been ready in the first place.
At No.8, Ben Mowen would be the first to admit he didn’t have a good game in Wellington but it is no reason to drop him. Blindside would seem to be his best position.
There have been a few bruises collected over the past few weeks – the pugnacious coach included. It comes with the territory but the All Blacks are gone – for now. There is no point getting bogged down in it. There are others, from Buenos Aires to Cardiff, lining up to have a crack at the member of Sanzar’s big three they think is the most vulnerable.
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