Wednesday’s Rugby News looks at George Gregan’s assessment of the Wallabies World Cup hopes, alternates to the World League, the outcome of Billy Meakes trip to the tribunal and the Brumbies attempting to turn around their second-half woes.
Gregan still believes it’s coming home
Whilst many have already ruled out the Wallabies from World Cup contention, Australia’s most capped player George Gregan believes that the side can win the tournament if they manage to curb their inconsistency.
Despite enduring their worst test campaign in 60 years in 2018, Gregan has backed Michael Cheika and the Wallabies to peak at the right time, similar to what they did in 2015 where they made it to the final.
“They do have time in a World Cup year, which is a unique year. It is about getting it right when you get over here,” said Gregan in an interview in Sapporo.
“I just see the margins now, particularly amongst the top eight teams, getting smaller and smaller. They can flip that switch, they have that in them.”
Gregan noted that the side must show considerable improvement during The Rugby Championship if they wish to build confidence for the tournament stating “It’s about getting it right on the day and if you are a little bit off, you are out. That is the Rugby World Cup.”
He pointed to the consistency showed by fellow Pool D opponent Wales, who have won 14 matches in a row which have included winning the Six Nations Grand Slam and victory over Australia (tough to decide which one is more valuable/tougher) as the benchmark for the Wallabies.
“You have a team like Wales, who have won 14 in a row … all the fundamentals of their game are sound and together but the Wallabies team haven’t had that for a while,” said Gregan.
“I think they (Australia) have just been inconsistent, really inconsistent. They have shown glimpses of what they can do”
“You can see parts of their game improving, but they haven’t put it all together at the same time for an extended period and that is what consistent, good teams do.”
Gregan also believes that Cheika and the Wallabies could thrive under the potential tag of being ‘underdogs’ as compared to the likes of New Zealand, Ireland and Wales heading into the tournament.
“We like going to international competitions and especially if the Wallabies are a little bit under the radar then they can go about their work and do a good block of training… then they will think why not?” he said.
Alternate World League proposed
With the future of the proposed World League on shaky grounds, Rugby Australia is already looking at other alternatives to the controversial competition.
The World League has faced criticism since it was first proposed, with the main concerns arising due to the makeup of the tournament and the potential for relegation/promotion, along with concerns from the players association due to its extensive workload.
Whilst the concept has received praise from Rugby Australia, Chairman Cameron Clyne have revealed talks are already underway with SANZAAR about potential alternatives to the League if it does not receive the green light.
“We’re working with our SANZAAR partners to create new versions of the Rugby Championship with things going forward to the next broadcast cycle which hopefully will mirror that concept and create something that’s a bit more meaningful,” Clyne said.
Whilst the issue of promotion/relegation in the World League seems to be a sticking point for nations such as England, Clyne suggests that the system would be a major part of the Rugby Championship going forward, noting the intrigue and interest that it can provide to the sport.
“We’re pretty flexible…We’re happy to look at any of the concepts”, Clyne said in regards to potential changes to The Rugby Championship.
“Things like promotion and relegation, those sorts of things which I know are difficult concepts but that adds interest to the game…We’re open to any sort of formats.”
Whilst on the expansion of tournaments, Clyne rejected any claims of disdain in the Super Rugby ranks about the switch to a 14 team tournament in 2021, stating that the revised format has been supported by SANZAAR and Australian Super Rugby teams alike.
“The feedback quite clearly is there are potentially greater opportunities and integrity around a 14-team round robin,” he said.
Changes suggested to the tournament would see the hosting rights to the grand final given to the highest bidder, along with the introduction of midweek games during the Rugby Championship.
The format would seek to undertake a franchise model with city-based teams that would implement a ‘marquee player’ pool, which would have no implications on international availability, which would be introduced with themed rounds designed to bring back support for the sport.
Rebels centre Billy Meakes has been cleared to play against the Stormers on Friday after the SANZAAR judicial committee issued him with a warning over his dangerous tackle.
Meakes was charged for high contact on a tackle made on centre Jason Emery during last week’s clash with the Sunwolves, which the Rebels were victories 42-15.
He was cited under law 9.13 which states “A player must not tackle an opponent early, late or dangerously. Dangerous tackling includes, but is not limited to, tackling or attempting to tackle an opponent above the line of the shoulders even if the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders.”
However, Meakes was cleared Tuesday evening of any wrongdoing after SANZAAR released a statement confirming that Meakes would only be issued with a warning for a tackle since the point of contact was below Emery’s shoulders.
“The Judicial Committee, however, found that the act of foul play did not meet the Red Card threshold,” the statement read.
“On review of footage not available to the citing commissioner, it was clear the initial point of contact was below the shoulder line with use of the arms in an attempted wrap.”
“The player’s shoulder rose up post the initial contact and may have contacted the neck of the tackled player although footage was inconclusive.”
Meakes was still given a warning for the tackle due to the vulnerability of Emery, who was in the finishing process of kicking when the point of contact was made.
“The action of the Player in tackling a vulnerable opponent at the shoulder line and rising up was dangerous and as a result a Warning would be issued to the Player (under Rule 8.5).”
This will be welcome news for the Rebels, who will look to extend their two-game winning streak against the Stormers on Friday, as Meakes has been in career-best form for the Rebels with many suggesting that his impressive first half to the season has warranted a spot in the Wallabies side for the World Cup.
Brumbies half-time shakeup
The Brumbies are looking to shake up their half time routine in a bid to rectify their second-half woes.
The side has led at the half time break in 5 out of their 7 Super Rugby matches, however, they have only converted on two of those wins, which has left them 2nd last as opposed to the potential of being 2nd if they had converted each lead.
The side has been outscored 142 to 66 in the second half, epitomised by last week’s performance against the Crusaders, which saw the ACT side lead 7-0 at half time, before crashing to a 36-14 loss.
Their lackadaisical performances in the second half have been noted by backrower Lachlan McCaffrey, who believed that the side has failed to match the intensity that they deliver at the start of games.
“It is something we have talked about. We have tried a few things around halftime but it comes down to our game plan and mentally 1-15 being switched on, and starting fast,” McCaffrey said.
“I think we are starting games really fast but we are not starting that second half with the same intensity. It is something we have addressed and something we are working on.”
The Brumbies are continuing to take positives from the first half of their games, which have shown that they can hang with the top teams of the competitions.
However, they are more keen on learning from their mistakes, particularly the importance of keeping their full allotment of players for 80 minutes, as opposed to the 20 minutes that they spent with 14 against the Crusaders.
“You have to put an 80-minute performance together. They were bringing All Blacks off the bench, who made a pretty big impact in that last 25 minutes and we just didn’t go with them. Playing with 14 men for 20 minutes in the half also didn’t help.”
The Brumbies will welcome back the majority of their Wallabies contingency, most notably captain David Pocock, along with Scott Sio, Rory Arnold and Folau Faingaa for the must-win clash with the Lions on Saturday.