THE joy of winning covers just about every flaw, but if Australian rugby supporters and the Wallaby team and hierarchy get too delighted with our last-gasp win over the Springboks in Perth last night, they are all kidding themselves.
It was vital for Australian rugby that they bounced back from the devastating defeat by the All Blacks in Auckland, but if Ewen McKenzie or any of the players take too much comfort out of that victory, they’re travelling headlong towards another loss sooner rather than later.
If you want the good news first, it’s that they won. If you are looking for the bad news, it is that if there is not vast improvement between now and next Saturday, the underrated Pumas will deliver a lesson at Robina.
The Wallabies hung in on Saturday night. We know they can do that, but to be consistent winners in the big matches, hanging in has a limited shelf life. The key moment was referee George Clancy’s ludicrous sin-binning of South African winger Bryan Habana for a dangerous tackle.
It was a indeed a dangerous tackle if they were playing hopscotch, but as I understand it, rugby is a contact sport. In today’s very sensitive environment, there may have been a slight case for a penalty, but to rob a team of a player for 10 minutes for that tackle was ludicrous in the extreme.
The Wallabies, however, will not be complaining. Undoubtedly they’ll be the recipients of a similarly odd decision some time down the track and they will just have to swallow it.
What can’t be swallowed though by the Wallabies is their continuing disregard for discipline.
One can almost forgive giving penalties away under pressure, but the number of soft penalties this team has conceded in the three Rugby Championship games so far is embarrassing. It reeks of a team that does not trust itself and if there is to be progress to be made before next year’s World Cup, trust has to come into the equation.
Piggy-back mistakes where a skill error is compounded by indiscipline, or vice-versa have been rife in all three games and if one wants to take the dim view, the record could read three defeats as opposed to a win, a draw and a loss.
Until our ability to adhere to the rule book improves, the Wallabies will only ever be involved in losses or unnecessary nailbiters.
Before the match, former Wallabies captain John Eales insisted that while it was “super important” for rugby that the Wallabies win, when you lose, everything isn’t broken and when you win, everything isn’t hunky dory.
Thankfully the Wallabies managed to win, but everything is a long way from hunky dory.
Out of sight, out of mind they reckon, and while Will Genia came back into sight courtesy of his appearance for Brisbane City in the NRC Saturday, by and large, courtesy of their injuries, he and Quade Cooper have been largely out of the conversation of late.
After using Nic White and Kurtley Beale before reverting to the Waratahs pairing of Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley, the evidence so far is that you don’t know what you’re missing until you haven’t got it.
There is no question that Cooper can be flighty and that Genia has not been at his best this season, but there is a fair gap between them at their best and what we’ve seen so far in the Wallaby ranks.
Phipps was one of the most improved players in this year’s Super 15 and Foley was a match-winner in their title-winning run, but it is a different scenario altogether on the international scene and both were found wanting on Saturday night.
A prerequisite of your number 9 and 10 is the ability to pass swiftly and accurately, regardless of the conditions. Neither Foley nor Phipps did that consistently enough in Perth.
If they are retained for the game against the Pumas, there needs to be vast improvement.
The Pumas were robbed of any chance of beating the All Blacks by a refereeing decision even more ridiculous than that one that benefited the Wallabies.
The Wallabies got the win, and for that we can all be temporarily grateful, but at the moment it just seems to be papering over the cracks.