An obituary: In affectionate remembrance of Australian rugby, which died in Paris on November 10, 2012. The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Canterbury.
OPINION: Not everyone in New Zealand will be mourning the death of Australian rugby today, but some of us will be there at the memorial service, head bowed, a tear in the corner of the eye. We are sad, because we do remember.
We remember Mark Ella, a first-five who bewitched us with his movement and his understanding of the lie of the land. We remember David Campese playing keepy-uppy by himself while the All Blacks went all tribal with another matinee performance of the haka.
We remember Stephen Larkham moving tacklers with a shift of his wrists. We remember Ken Catchpole, John Hipwell, Nick Farr-Jones, George Gregan and Will Genia, halfbacks who seemed to make all things possible for the men outside them.
And this is what really hurts. The death of possibility. Australia have rarely been the best rugby team in the world, but they have frequently been the most romantic, the country most ready to have a go, men with a bit of larrikin and devil-may-care in their souls.
In Paris at the weekend Australia played with wretched cowardice. You could forgive them a couple of weeks ago when Australia sent one-off runners up the middle against the mighty All Blacks. But that forgiveness just passed away. For Australia to play like bitter old men in the romantic capital of the world was a betrayal of the green and gold.
Australia have now gone 175 minutes without scoring a try. In the World Cup I had a bit of fun at Australia's expense by labelling them the Dullabies. But that team was positively effervescent compared to this lot. The current Wallabies are a rabble of walking wounded, deserters and lost souls.
Two years ago Kurtley Beale looked like the best fullback in the world. Australia tore France apart in Paris, winning 59-16. France put out a team of giant men, but they were completely humiliated by the pace and ball movement of Australia. French spectators were applauding the opposition.
Now Beale is a confused man playing out of position. He was out of his depth against little Frederic Michalak, a 30-year-old troubadour who was long ago discarded from international rugby. On Saturday Michalak stepped past Beale as if he wasn't there to set up France's second try. And maybe Beale wasn't there, at least not in his head.
The buckaroo has to stop with Robbie Deans. Yes, he has a huge injury list, but right now players like George Smith, Luke Burgess, Quade Cooper and Matt Giteau would be worth their weight in green and gold. Unfortunately Dingo Deans barked them out of town.
Man management is a huge part of being an international coach. Graham Henry will tell you that. He lost a Lions tour against Australia despite having the better team because he alienated a number of his players. But Henry learned and moved on. A huge part of the World Cup success was down to Henry's ability to keep his players onside. Deans strayed offside long ago.
After Saturday's game Philippe Saint- Andre said, "I think the Australians cracked mentally at some point." He was correct. They cracked during the World Cup. They cracked when they gave up on Quade Cooper after the Ireland defeat. They cracked when they stopped playing rugby. They cracked when they thought they could kick the All Blacks off the park in the semifinal.
Since then Australia have tried to win matches off the other team's mistakes. It is a betrayal of their history. This is what Bob Dwyer, the coach of the 1991 World Cup winners, wrote in his book The Winning Way.
"Rugby is a game which deserves to be played positively, by which I mean that every team should be willing to risk defeat in the pursuit of victory. If your primary aim is to avoid defeat by avoiding risks, you would be better off not playing rugby at all. To set out to win by capitalising on the mistakes of your opponents is, in my opinion, a miserable way to play the game."
Dwyer went on to extol the virtue of keeping the winning of a match in your own hands and not booting the ball back to the opposition. He justly then bagged England for their attitude. But this current Wallabies team is just England in disguise. There is no bigger insult than that. Time and again they kick away possession.
Time and again Beale and Barnes, the killer Bs, tried another silly kick against France. I had a vision of Phil Kearns, the former Wallabies hooker, banging his head against Alan Jones in frustration. Anything but that.
There was nothing good about the performance against France. Nick Phipps may just be the worst No 9 in Australia's rugby history. The midfield can't play. And as for the fullback, heaven help us. Mike Harris is about the 10th choice New Zealand first- five playing wildly out of position in the 15 jersey.
The whole thing was so sad that I started to believe it was some dastardly New Zealand plot to destroy Australian rugby and that Dingo Deans is some sort of double agent.
But the sadder truth is that Deans has probably lost the plot.
It no longer matters what happens at Twickenham this weekend. France was a country from whose bourn no traveller returns. RIP Australia.
Mark Reason is a sportswriter formerly with the Times of London and Daily Telegraph in the UK. He now lives in Wairarapa.
- Taranaki Daily News
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