Much like Eddie Jones did during the June Test series against Australia, All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen is playing his Wallaby counterpart Michael Cheika like a fiddle. Hansen keeps telling Cheika how good he is as a coach, and how his style of play is going to turn the rugby world around, but the reality is that Australia are in the midst of a five-match losing streak.
Everywhere Cheika has gone during his professional coaching career, he has been successful. However, somewhere along the line, the 49-year-old mentor is going to have to change his plan because the first Bledisloe Cup Test in Sydney underlined the fact that the Wallabies won’t be able to run at the All Blacks for 80 minutes and come away with the spoils. Cheika has decided on an all-out, ball-in-hand approach, but one of things that the All Blacks do very well is change their plans according to the opposition they face on match day.
Cheika is a very effective man-motivator and the Wallabies work really hard under his tutelage, but the bottom line is that he is stubborn. Cheika’s ego is a problem because he has decided, come hell or high water, this is the style he will play and even if his team loses by a 34-point margin, he is going to persist with the plan. The All Blacks knew that the Wallabies would carry the ball in Sydney, which is why the visitors didn’t put numbers in the breakdown.
The All Blacks literally made the Wallabies run, and run, and run. They waited for unforced errors, capitalized on the mistakes and won comfortably. A number of New Zealand’s tries were scored from Australian error, but the former are a classy outfit. As long as Chieka persists with a ball-in-hand approach, it will be one-way traffic against the Kiwis.
Unlike the Wallabies, the All Blacks are not one-trick ponies.
The reason the All Blacks are the best team in the world is because they boss every area of play. They scrum well, their lineout is effective, they win the territorial battle, they are brilliant with ball in hand and they boast a high tackle completion rate.
The All Blacks scored six tries to one against Australia, but the fascinating statistic is that they made more kicks from hand than the Wallabies (27 versus 22). I’m not suggesting that the Wallabies should kick everything, but it must be noted that much of their kicking is done once they have exhausted all other options. And, as it’s done off the back foot, it allows the All Blacks opportunity to play again.
The All Blacks continue to set the standard in world rugby and, at the moment, Cheika is employing a style with which I don’t see them beating the World Cup champions. For all intents and purposes, he has been figured out. The fact is that the teams that are finding the right blend are winning rugby games, whereas Australia are not even competitive anymore.
However, at least Cheika has recalled Quade Cooper to the starting line-up for Saturday’s Test in Wellington. The mercurial flyhalf will play his first Test for the Wallabies since the Rugby World Cup pool match against Uruguay.
Cooper simply had to be recalled because there is no question that Australia is in desperate need of a game breaker. Bernard Foley is a solid enough player, but he is not the answer at No 10 because he doesn’t offer enough on offence to execute the out-and-out attacking style Australia are intent on playing at present.
The 1995 Rugby World Cup-winner has enjoyed an illustrious playing and coaching career. He proved hugely successful during his time as Saracens’ director of rugby and guided the Sharks to Currie Cup triumph in 2013. Venter now practises as a medical doctor and has been appointed as London Irish’s technical director. Follow him on Twitter: @BrendanVenter