Planet Rugby

Referee calls mask Wallaby frailties

03rd November 2013 13:35

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England players charge down a kick from Australia s scrum half Will Genia leading to an England try

Stuck behind a retreating pack: Will Genia

Let's, for a moment, gloss over the refereeing errors that so heavily impacted upon England's 20-13 victory over the Wallabies at Twickenham on Saturday.

Let's wave away the missed infringements of the referee, his assistant and the TMO that had such bearing on the outcome of the game. Let's leave review and criticism of the match officials to the International Rugby Board. Let's instead shift our focus to the problems that still plainly hamper this Wallaby side, and were glaringly exposed anew at Twickenham.

Confidence stands front and centre among these issues, and it's hardly a fresh concern. After a season of demoralising defeats, both to the touring British and Irish Lions, and their Rugby Championship rivals, the Australians' mental toughness has taken major a turn for the worse.

The Twickenham clash was one they led by seven points at half-time - a lead they had opportunities to extend in the second period - after performing reasonably against a stuttering England side. But they appeared so desperately lacking in composure and certainty when the chips were down that it stunted their decision-making at crucial times in the game.

Rather than grasping the nettle, and keeping play firmly in English territory, the Wallabies were drawn into a more forced and frantic style of rugby, where a greater sense of calm and pragmatism should have seen them through.

Errors and ill-discipline beleaguered them yet again.

20 missed tackles, 12 penalties, two free-kicks and 17 turnovers were conceded. This was all exacerbated by the lack of a steady hand on the tiller; despite the presence of recognised leaders in Ben Mowen, recently-deposed skipper James Horwill, Quade Cooper and Will Genia in the line-up.

Ah yes, the talented Genia. It's been a frustrating year for the 25-year-old, capped on Saturday by the charge-down that led to Chris Robshaw's try and several fumbles around the breakdown. Plug him into any side with a pack that so much as gains parity with its opposition, and he will shine. But even the world's best scrum-half can struggle when living off the scraps of a terminally retreating set of forwards.

And those forwards continue to be marched backwards, sideways and round in a circle at scrum time. Perhaps worst of all for the Wallabies, everyone realises they are struggling. Having spoken to those in the know, both the IRB and the referees are very aware of the Australian set-piece frailties.

Without wishing to cast any sort of doubt over the credibility or integrity of the men in the middle, it must be a damn sight easier to punish a scrum universally recognised as under pressure, and the visitors may have had cause to feel aggrieved with a couple of George Clancy's penalty awards.

The new scrum directive (note: not "new laws", as only the engagement sequence is new) has done the Australians few favours. Despite having something of a weaker scrummage in the past, they have traditionally used their considerable nous to negotiate and compensate for their lack of panache.

Like most teams, the Wallabies are still getting to grips with the nuances of the new approach to the set-piece. As expected, it does - when officiated correctly - seem to have brought initial stability and a fairer contest for possession to an area of the game that was in dire need of a revamp.

Sadly for the Australian pack, with the emphasis now firmly placed on scrummaging technique, a physically large eight armed with set-piece skill can be devastating. The monstrous forwards of South Africa and Argentina offered prime examples of this successful blend in the recent Rugby Championship.

The Wallabies boast neither of those components, however, and perhaps more worryingly, still appear to be adopting a bizarre and ignorant attitude to their scrum woes rather than seeking to address those issues.

Any forwards coach in world rugby will attest to the value of a top-class tighthead prop. Not least because, under the new directive, the tighthead is under yet more pressure at the scrum. Australia simply cannot call upon the services of an Adam Jones, a Juan Figallo or a Jannie du Plessis.

So the cracks in the Wallaby shell are plain to see, and will remain vulnerable to sides with the weaponry to exploit them.

For now, the manner of Saturday's defeat will leave the Northern Hemisphere nations sniffing an opportunity to inflict further pain on a team whose confidence is at its lowest ebb.

By Jamie Lyall
@jlyall93

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