Rugby Union 3 years ago

State of the Nation: Part 2

  • State of the Nation: Part 2

What does Michael Cheika do? As a man who looks slightly follicly challenged, the stress of the Wallabies spring tour couldn’t have helped.

He sat a forlorn figure in London and Dublin as the same old Wallaby frailties reared their collective heads. The sad thing is that from numbers six to fifteen, Australia more than held there own against their English and Irish opponents. Some would argue that the Wallabies emerged on top against both backlines. But the cringe-worthy expression “forwards decide who wins matches and backs decide by how much,“ annoyingly holds water here.

Cheika has inherited a squad that emerged from a turbulent final three weeks of the four nations championship, and had been amongst the millions of bemused viewers who watched the Wallabies submit in injury time to a tired looking All-Blacks side a few weeks later.

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Ewen McKenzie’s position became unattainable due to internal squad issues, and the Wallabies were left with a ton of injuries, a twenty two year old captain, bereft of their manager, and on the back of four losses in a row. It wasn’t surprising to see Cheika refrain from wielding the axe.

I actually believe he doesn’t regret it too much, despite the defeats suffered, and here is why.

The front five, whatever illusions both he and McKenzie may have been under about them, have been dispelled, utterly.

If there was any doubt in his mind, about if certain players in the squad had only suffered a lapse in form over the tail end of the Championship, the spring tour would have demolished that synopsis. The cataclysmic demise of his tight five forwards…yet again. allows him now to swing the scythe like the shrouded figure of death himself.

Against Wales, Australia were mostly bullied, but their backs were that much better than Wales’ that it made no difference. Against Ireland, Australia was more or less dominated up front, with a forlorn Michael Hooper trying to put out fires all over the place. Against England, Australia was absolutely demolished up front, in a truly humiliating display. Most spectators were left bewildered as to how a team with aspirations in winning a world cup, could have such an incompetent tight five.

I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t sledge a few of these offenders individually. You could say that I am slightly emotionally invested, and still a bit peeved some weeks later. So here it goes.

Sekopi Kepu is awful. Not good, not reasonable, not even comparably moderate. Woeful is the term I elect to use. He continually gets destroyed at virtually every scrum he enters. I am sure he is a happy bloke who smiles, but all we see on TV is his grim visage as yet another loose head prop does an absolute number upon him. A total penalty machine and worth at least fifteen points to every opponent the Wallabies face. I’m sorry, Mr. Cheika, but he has to go.

Fainga’a is all heart and belligerence around the field and he throws himself with abandon into every ruck, but his line out throwing is that bad that I am not entirely convinced he would even hit the ground if he aimed for it.

James Slipper is a good player, but his scrummaging is poor to moderate. I understand he gets no help from his second rows, but he does get folded in half every time by every world-class tight head he comes across.

Benny Robinson has been ordinary for years and time after time, year after year, he gets invited back. There must be some competition every year where you collect twenty crisp packets and you receive a front row shirt in the Wallabies squad. Our Benny seems to win it every year.

Ben Alexander’s heart is in the right place. We all felt his time was done when Corbisiero owned him on the Lions tour, but he has found his way back yet again. His attitude is spot on but to be blunt: there are tribes of isolated Inuit tribes from deep in the artic circle, who have never witnessed the game of rugby union football who could pack better in a scrum.

Will Skelton is twenty kilograms over weight. He probably earns far more than the average office worker, workers who a certain standard of professionalism is required. You would think that a guy who basically trains for a living would be fit enough to play, but it just doesn’t seem to work.

Simmons is the better of the second rowers, now that James Horwill has seemed to have lost the will to compete. But even at that, he seems to come up against great players every week and gets outclassed. He may improve though. All is not lost you would feel.

When Michael Cheika wields the axe for some or all of these, and if sanity prevails, he will, there is still hope. There are young players coming through like our own Tetera Faulkner, Adam Coleman and Ollie Hoskins. Scott Fardy is a not only a fabulous back row forward but he is just as good at lock. Polota-Nau and Stephen Moore are world-class hookers. The strength and depth is there, but the old guard must be put out to pasture.

I know what your thinking, its all doom and gloom, but that’s not true either. There are positives. Adam Ashley-Cooper is world class. His every touch exudes brilliance. Foley, although only keeping the seat warm for Quade, more than held his own in most matches. Nick Phipps is a livewire. Folau is a threat with ball in hand virtually every time he touches the ball and Tevita Kurindrani is making a reputation for himself as a match winning midfielder.

Michael Hooper could potentially change the game forever. He alone, throughout all adversity the squad has suffered, has led with aplomb. He is hard, fit strong and clever. He is an inspirational player, someone whom Michael Cheika can build an empire around. He can’t be the fireman that puts out all the fires any longer. In a forward pack that could just break even, he could become the world’s best player. He is that good.

Michael Cheika, what do you do?  You know you have to wield the axe, as being in the same group as Wales and England with an awful front five will mean certain defeat.

Wishing and hoping and dreaming that the opposition will somehow over look or forget the inadequate front five on front of them is ridiculous. At this level, when the top ten teams comes a knocking, it’s the first thing they look for. The choice is simple for Michael Cheika. If the Wallaby forward pack can be compared to a nice shirt, a stitch in time saves nine.

Over and out,

CB

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