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Bring On Wales After Scots Repelled!

Bring On Wales After Scots Repelled!

Bring On Wales After Scots Repelled!

ScotvABS_2017_primary

POST match reactions have hogged the headlines more than the matches themselves following the weekends sporting action.

The utterings of the Kiwi coach and their gum chewing captain seem to have enraged suffering league fans as much as the team’s World Cup exit, while Michael Cheika has managed to deflect attention away from the crushing Wallaby defeat at Twickenham.

The All Blacks shortly, but first to the big headline act, the one at Twickenham.

The Wallabies have been making solid progress this year.

They thoroughly deserved their Brisbane win over the All Blacks, have a clutch of brilliant players and a passionate coach, and the potential is there for them to be real challengers for the Webb Ellis Cup in two years’ time.
But they’re not going to achieve greatness until they stop playing the victim every time something doesn’t go their way.

They were well beaten at Twickenham by a team that played a whole lot smarter, and to suggest that they were robbed by the refereeing is a mix of denial and a very creative interpretation of rugby law.

Ben O’Keefe is still young in his international career to have been given such an important match, and was put to the test with a string of match defining situations.

He got nearly all of them spot on, and the marginal ones were dictated by the “clear and obvious” caveat…for example in the case of the Ben Daley try it required clear and obvious evidence that the ball had grazed the touchline. One angle suggested it might have touched a painted blade of grass, but others did not support that. It was a fair call under current application of the laws.

Michael Hooper was yellow carded for a record eighth time, because he ignored the referee twice telling him to get back and made a goal line tackle from an offside position.

He later had a try disallowed because he made no effort to retreat after he’d started his chase of a kick through a metre in front of the kicker. He claimed to have “worked back” but he didn’t. He kept running and just waved his hands in the air.

He was caught bang to rights on both occasions and yet he and his coach acted as if soggy London air was thick with injustice.
Kurtley Beale reacted mockingly to being yellow carded after slapping down an England pass in an overlap situation. It’s true that Maro Itoje got away with something similar, and Beale’s action seemed almost involuntary, but he still had no case to argue.  

The risk is that the victim mentality has spread to the players. They are making poor decisions in the heat of the moment, and claiming injustice when they are punished.

Cheika is without doubt a very good coach and people who know him, including some of my colleagues, say he’s a great guy.

But his uncouth behaviour in the stands, the petulant post match outbursts and the conviction that the world is against him (he was mocked during the Twickenham game by Stuart Barnes) and suggesting that his team is being cheated could well cost him and his team in the long run.

He’s probably lucky World Rugby has enough of a job on its hands justifying the 2023 World Cup decision…in another time they’d probably be throwing the book at him.   

And what to make of another patchy All Black performance?

Well firstly, give credit to a Scottish team missing a bunch of front liners including their outstanding captain Greg Laidlaw. They came up with an inspired performance, led by their brilliant fullback Stuart Hogg, and were within a desperate tackle or two of a famous result.

Once again the All Blacks managed to hang on with a depleted team, and again showed they are second to none at getting out of a tight spot.

They scored one of the best team tries of the year and under constant threat the defence came up big, with a 90 percent tackle success and two game savers by Damien McKenzie and Beauden Barrett, both on the flying Hogg. 

But they’re contributing too readily to getting into those tight spots, with silly plays like the Sonny Bill Williams dead ball thing last week, and Wyatt Crockett’s yellow card at Murrayfield. The penalty counts are racking up and the general discipline and decision making under pressure are not where they need to be.

It’s almost like this campaign is a series of lifeboat drills, how best to handle it when the ship hits an iceberg, and probably in the long run it’ll bear fruit, but it’s frustrating for All Black fans, and fuelling talk amongst the detractors that this team is not what it once was.

Wales were lucky against Georgia, and probably only survived because of a cynical use of the front row substitution laws, but we know they will put out a much stronger team with a well thought out game plan this coming weekend. 

All Black followers would love to see an emphatic performance to end 2017 (LIVE from Cardiff at 5.45am this Sunday - SKY Sport 1) , but in the current climate, at the end of a very long, tough year, they’ll do well to just get the result and get out of Dodge.