Mark Reason: Australian rugby in 'death throes' after worst defensive performance of all-time
OPINION: A memorial service will be held for Australian rugby next week.
The family of Australian Rugby invite sorrowing friends and relatives to attend Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Saturday. The All Blacks are expected to attend the service. The funeral will be held later in the year.
Don't kid yourselves about the All Blacks 54-34 victory over Australia. This wasn't New Zealand reborn. These were the death throes of Australian rugby. Goodness knows where they scraped up 54,000 people to come and watch. Are there that many New Zealanders living in Sydney?
For the next seven days anyone called Jones is going to climb into the Wallabies, although you wonder if the twitching marsupial is worth their breath. I don't think I have ever seen a worst defensive performance from a front rank international side. Had they learned nothing from the Lions series?
You have to come against Beauden Barrett with line speed, you have to cut down his time, make him panic. But Australia actually stood off. Most of the time Samu Kerevi slid into 12 and Curtis Rona came into 13, with Kurtley Beale moving out. And it was complete amateur hour. Sorry, that's not fair on those great Australian amateur sides of yore, who could actually play a bit.
Defence coach Nathan Grey needs to leave the room in a hurry. He doesn't have much of a track record, anyway. Well, not unless you mean turning a Lions series, when he bust Richard Hill's jaw with a disgusting tackle halfway through the second test in 2001.
But however revolting it may be to say, you almost hoped for a bit of that aggro from the Australians. Where was the mongrel? Even a chihuahua has more bite. The back row was awful. Ned Hannigan is so far out of his depth. The poor bloke is drowning out there. He looks and play like Goldilocks.
But the tackling in the backs was far worse than the inadequacies of the back row. You could understand now why Taranaki exported Curtis Rona. The lad talks a good game: "I guess they [the All Blacks camp] can say whatever they want, but I know what I'm capable of doing," That is a long way from playing one.
Rona was played out of position on the wing and he did not know whether he was coming or going. I lost count of the amount of tackles he missed. He was skinned on the outside by Damian McKenzie in the first half, a run that led to a try. He was then stepped on the inside quite effortlessly by Liam Squire in the second half, a move that also led to a try.
How is it possible for a top level wing to have the inside track on a blind side flanker, with the touchline as his outside defender, and to get beaten on the inside? Defence is a skill and it is one which Rona is a long way off mastering.
Cheika said before the game, "I'm sure he can handle it, no problem".
Oh, self delusion. Kerevi was just as bad. There is an art to playing 12 in defence. You have to stay connected with your 10, and you need to bring linespeed, while holding on the inside runners and being ready to slide. It's hard. Even SBW failed to get to the outside on one of Australia's second half tries.
But Kerevi was clueless. Like a mad trombonist, he didn't know whether to hold or slide. Owen Farrell, appropriately the son of a defence coach, is the best in the world at defending with his 10 and 13. Maybe Australia should offer his dad a lot of money to sort out their mess. England coached by an Aussie, Australia coached by a Pom in a world gone mad.
Sadly for Australia, the outside defence was just as bad as the inside. The Lions wings were expert at knowing when to hold or when to rush in for a pressure spot tackle. They also won a ton of ball in the air. Australia were a shambles on the outside. They didn't scramble. Henry Speight was exposed as a poor tackler. Israel Folau got stood up and beaten on the outside for Rieko Ioane's first try. He is not much of a defender either.
By half time the Wallabies had given up 40 points. Hello? Maybe Bill Pulver, the almost extinct CEO of Aussie rugby, needs to think about cutting another team. They wear green and gold. At least the Western Force tended to play with a bit of dingo.
Look, here's a quote from Grey: "I'm very passionate and really keen to get Australian rugby loving defence. I love it, I really want people to love it and from a national perspective. I reckon you get the decibel meter out when there's a big hit on a rugby field and there's great defence – the crowd know that and they respond accordingly."
I can hear the sick laughter from the Blue Mountains to the Nullarbor Plain. This was a dreadful night for Australian rugby. I would love to be celebrating the starting debut of McKenzie or the performance of big Brodie or the nous of Ryan Crotty. But you see, they were only playing Australia. How can you judge against that lot, a team that lost at home to Scotland, when three of their best backs were absent on the Lions tour.
How sad it is to say that of Australia. You think of Ella and Eales, Lynagh, Little and Larkham. You think of Campo and Roff, Farr-Jones, Horan and Gregan. Four more years? I fear it will be a lot longer than that before Aussie rugby rises from the dead.
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