I enjoyed the June Test window.
It was a lovely break from the weekly grind of Super Rugby, and allowed us to whet our appetites for international footy before the Rugby Championship kicks off. It also provided a number of revealing insights into the state of Australian rugby, on and off the field. Here are just six:
1. Berrick Barnes is Alec Baldwin. OK, so this one might be a stretch but stick with it. Baldwin is a good actor, but does his best work in an ensemble cast where he can feed off the good work of others. Think of movies like The Departed and obviously his brilliant work on ’30 Rock’. As much as he probably has the looks he just ain’t no leading man, and his attempts in the limelight have been largely disappointing (think Heaven’s Prisoners, Ghosts of Mississippi, The Edge). The same can be said for Berrick. When you put him outside Genia and throw names like Ioane, McCabe and Beale into the mix then he generally thrives. He feeds off the good work of others and makes the right decision almost 100 per cent of the time. However, the Waratahs have cast him as the leading man, and the results have been predictably poor. He overplays his hand and relies too much on his boot when presented with no options. He hasn’t been terrible with the Tahs, but not nearly as good as he has been this month with Genia, Digby and Kurtley to take some of the pressure off.
2. Wycliff Palu is our best number 8. Easily. Where his selection at the start of the series copped a fair bit of criticism (with some preferring Mowen and others Higgers), surely no-one will be questioning it any more. He was great in Sydney, and good in Melbourne and Brisbane. While he wasn’t exactly snapping necks and cashing cheques his workrate was fantastic — he lead the series tally in both tackles and runs despite being subbed early in two of the games. And for those keeping score in the Higgers versus Palu debate, Wycliff chalked up 14 more tackles and 9 more runs than his northern (soon to be southern) counterpart. For the first time in years he is enjoying a prolonged period of fitness, and it is starting to pay dividends.
3. Afternoon Tests are a thing of beauty. Especially when played at suburban grounds like the SFS. Sure, there were issues with traffic and overcrowding, but the atmosphere was brilliant under the afternoon sun (or so I’m told by people at the ground). There looked to be an abundance of kids and families, and while the game wasn’t a cracker it was pretty exciting in the final five minutes. Kudos to the ARU and NSWRU for shifting suburban, junior and club footy for that day, as it allowed everyone to either get to the ground or at least to a screen. The Tahs have already had considerable success with the afternoon format, and let’s hope we see more of it in 2013 and beyond.
4. Three-match Test series are the way to go. I love the three-game format for a variety of reasons. We get to really know a touring team, and can appreciate their players over a couple of weeks. You see each side’s tactics shift week to week as they adapt to the challenges presented in the previous game. Rivalries develop, made all the better by having full-strength Northern Hemisphere teams travel here. It makes for far more enjoyable rugby than playing a couple of games each against two or three undermanned touring sides.
5. There are big problems in Tahland. Sure, we sort of already new this, but June just rubbed salt into the bleeding wounds. Barnes was in great form and directed the Wallabies with aplomb. Palu was working his arse off. AAC was chasing kicks like a mad woman. Even Horne had his moments. After all the pre-series angst about picking so many Waratahs, you’d have to agree a lot of our standouts were (gasp!) from NSW. So clearly the Waratahs’ failings in 2012 can’t have much to do with the personnel. It’s about culture, direction and instruction. Because June showed that they have the players to win the comp.
6. Haters gonna hate. Some people are never happy. Wales are the Six Nations champions and a very good rugby side. You’d think after beating them 3-0 the mood in Aussie rugby would be at the very least upbeat, even happy. And to be fair, in some circles it is. But the degree of negativity around is staggering. Sure, the Welsh attack left a bit to be desired and we didn’t win every game in convincing style, but 3-0 is still 3-0 and our ability to close out games (without our captain and a couple of our best backs) was great to see. But apparently that was not good enough for some. Some players are still the target of at times vitriolic abuse, while others prefer to aim their hate at the coaching staff. Some highlights:
‘Getting sick of watching Australia-A embarrass the country. Time to pick a real team Deans!’
‘The Wallabies attack is limited and predictable: hello there are 8 Waratahs in the run on squad: the worst team that state has ever put together. Pick a team on form you fucking twats.’
‘Time to ask Jake White to take over and see if he can do better’
‘The Wallabies were basically an underperforming Waratah side wearing Gold, with a few stars added.’
‘The Wallabies by comparison fluffed their lines, fell off the stage and really tested the loyalty of family that bothered to show-up and support them.’
My message is simple: lighten up, guys. Life’s too short to be moaning and groaning all the time. Go outside and smell the roses, then come back inside and realise we just beat the 6N champs 3-0 and life isn’t that bad. I’m all for constructive criticism but sometimes I get the feeling that Aussie rugby fans need to ease up on it from time to time, especially when it is as vitriolic as the comments above. When people are ranting about Deans not picking a specialist lock on the bench I get the feeling they’re searching for something, anything, to gripe about.
So there are my learnings from June. What did you discover?