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07 Jul

Bledisloe Cup 2016: Wallabies have legitimate grievances but plenty of problems

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Balancing act: Michael Cheika. Photo: Jason McCawley Owen Franks appears to gouge Kane Douglas.

The Wallabies had 12 hours after the second Bledisloe Cup Test to refer to the citing commissioner Owen Franks’ apparent eye gouge on Kane Douglas.

That they did not is the irony of Saturday’s nasty post-match sideshow.

Behind the scenes Michael Cheika cultivates a no-blame culture. He wants his team to take responsibility for their performances. He leads the way by taking responsibility for his own, commenting two weeks in a row that he let the team down with elements of his preparation and coaching.

So team management did not refer the Franks incident to the citing commissioner, trusting that an act as deliberate as Franks’ scrape over Douglas’ eyes would be picked up and acted upon. It was not, presumably because the commissioner did not deem it serious enough to meet the required red card threshold.

On that issue, Cheika paid the price for his silence, while on the issue of Romain Poite’s refereeing, he paid the price for speaking out.

It appears the Australian coach went off half-cocked on a supposed meeting between Poite and New Zealand coach Steve Hansen last week, as Hansen denies such a meeting took place. Hansen did, however, admit he had a chat with assistant referee Jaco Peyper, convened at Peyper’s request, to “review some of the stuff that he had seen in our game”.

The relevant World Rugby regulation refers only to “the referee” in its stipulation that both teams should be given the opportunity to meet with a match official before a Test match. Peyper was the head honcho in the first Bledisloe Cup Test in Sydney but an assistant in Wellington, so Hansen did not contravene the letter of the regulations. The spirit of them, however, which is surely to guard against bias or its perception, has taken a hit.

If New Zealand are given the benefit of the doubt and their on-field superiority, Poite’s persistent shooing away of Australian captain Stephen Moore and his parallel willingness to hear complaints from New Zealand captain Kieran Read and a selection of other players suggest the Wallabies have a huge perception problem among match officials. That is for them to turn around.

Now to the real issue. The big, deep, dark hole in which the Wallabies find themselves.

Six losses on the trot and two Bledisloe Cup blow-outs are hard to take for fans, players and coaches alike. It is difficult to watch your team be monstered by a far better opponent. It must be harder still to put your body and your pride on the line week after week and get no reward, which is what life as a Wallaby is at the moment.

But this is not an irretrievable situation. Australia are blessed with skilled, tenacious rugby players and a suite of very good coaches.

That group orchestrated one of the most impressive World Cup campaigns in recent memory. Latterly that campaign has been characterised as an over-achievement relative to the Wallabies’ capacities. There is some truth in that and Hansen reminded everyone on Sunday that the Wallabies, too, have benefited at key times – try a World Cup quarter final against Scotland – from the rub of the green. But there is truth, too, in the Wallabies’ blood, sweat and tears, which also propelled them to the final.

Things are not going right for them 10 months later, but there is no evidence to suggest they are blind to their problems or avoiding tough decisions, with the possible exception of the lineout malaise.

The Wallabies should not sulk or complain about negativity. Their fans, former players and the media piled on the praise when it was warranted and earned.

As Australians are wont to do, the Wallabies must pick themselves up and keep going. Slowly, imperceptibly at first, they will turn things around.


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