The Wallabies come into this World Cup as one of the favourites. But to traverse to the final, they need to make it out of the toughest pool and, if not, South Africa and New Zealand in the quarter and semi finals. All of this against the backdrop of poor perceptions about our scrum and our ability to keep it together when the going gets tough. We’ll do it, though – and here’s why…..
1. Super Pooper!
It’s our (not so) secret weapon. And, like all secret weapons, it has caused consternation and debate. The conservative want to ensure we deploy it without jeopardising our other strategies. The modernists just want to deploy it – who cares if we lose a lineout when we get 338 turnovers a game? And the conspiracy theorists want to know why we can’t just pick all of our great 7s and be fair to everyone. But we know the main reason is that Rehoocockillson doesn’t quite have the gravitas as ‘Pooper’.
It sure speeds up a game and puts pressure on at the breakdown when Hooper and Pocock share the field. The issue will be maintaining balance throughout the tournament. It’s not just the lineout which needs to be managed. There are also matters such as the use of other good ball getters like Fardy and wider runners like Higginbotham (Higgardy?).
Whichever way you cut it, we’re likely to see some interesting configurations to facilitate the Pooper. And I think it opens the door to new ways to use other players.
2. Cashing a Big Cheik
You can call Michael Cheika a lot of things, but there’s no way you’d use the term ‘orthodox’. Well, he might seem orthodox if you look at the way we prepared 20 years ago. Cheika is more than an old school hard man, though. He combines that mentality of uncompromising hard work with a unique and decidedly modern approach to the actual playing of the game.
He seemingly re-jigged the Waratahs’ attack from 1st principles and came up with some novel new approaches. He found new and interesting ways of leveraging the talents of his players and causing consternation at the same time. I think we’re past that now and most of those smart fans with an opinion just look forward to what Cheika will do next. Whether it be moving Rob Horne to wherever on the field we need a tackle made, finding a way to use Beale (those two really go hand in hand) or coming up with some extraordinary motivation method, it is part of the suspense and entertainment of having such a unique bloke in charge.
3. Izzy! Izzy! Izzy!
Oi! Oi! Oi!
This is the bloke who will break a game open for the Wallabies. At least, that’s what the rest of the world thinks. The respect the press and opposition teams have for the talents of a player like Folau is rare to see across the board. And he certainly deserves it. We don’t need stats to know he’s great. He makes more metres in counter attack than just about anyone, is superb under the high ball and has improved his kicking significantly.
Looking deeper, though, I think he brings a whole different dimension to the team which is less discussed. His abilities mean the Wallabies have more flexibility in how they work. As an example, much is made (by some) of Kurtley Beale’s ability to release Folau. However, it is actually Folau’s ability to straighten the attack in the vein of an inside centre, along with his ability to know exactly when to do so, that does the job. That means Beale (or another 12) has more flexibility in playing the ball. Toomua was the beneficiary of that same abilities on last year’s tour.
4. Bringing Back the Scrum
Everyone has always known Australians can’t scrum. The Poms know they can win as many penalties as they like at scrum time and I think the Welsh believe they can get a pushover try from the 22. Their 22. I mean, after all, our selection method for props is understood by them to send a couple of flankers to Hungry Jacks for an extended camp and see who can still run when they get back.
Things have changed, though. There is no question that the five props heading to the tournament can scrum. And in each case, it is their core skill (OK, maybe Slipper is also a defacto flyhalf, but he can still scrummage). As regular contributor, Nutta, might say – we’ve got some meat and potatoes on the plate before the gravy for a change. Greg Holmes and Scott Sio have provided the depth we’ve been sorely missing at the back end of games. More so, they are challenging for the starting spots and keeping the pressure on to perform for everyone. As an added bonus, Toby Smith’s inclusion gives us more options both at the scrum and around the park. Plus, Sio’s versatility has meant we can drop a hooker and select us some more outside backs.
The influence of Mario Ledesma cannot be overstated. The Wallabies are playing with a variation of the Argentinian scrum and spend more ‘time under tension’ than they ever have had before. I also think it’s important to give a vote of thanks to Nick Stiles. It seems Stiles has been instrumental in the resurgence of Greg Holmes and the Queensland scrum, which also contributes Slipper and Simmons to the Wallabies tight five.
The Wallabies will traverse the pool of death in their path to the RWC final. The permutations, likelihoods and potential upsets have been done to death at this stage. There is nothing we can add except that the pool will be won by the team with the wherewithal and determination to gut it out. And if, for whatever reason, we end up in second spot, we’ll have to find even more to get through the quarters and semis.
Apparently, the bible gives us Psalm 23:4 to give motivation for times like this, but I prefer the version taught to me by some friends in the US Marine Corps, which I’ve modified here to suit:
Though I walk
Through the valley of the pool of death
I shall fear no evil
For I am the evilest son of a bitch in the valley