Rugby Championship

Oz can still turn it around

2014-08-28 14:02
Ewen McKenzie (Getty)

Melbourne - Australia's Eden Park humiliation at the hands of the All Blacks ruthlessly exposed the Wallabies' lack of depth, but Ewen McKenzie still has time to mould his team into Rugby World Cup contenders, according to former Australia coach Bob Dwyer.

The Wallabies held the All Blacks to a 12-12 draw in the first Rugby Championship match in Sydney but the 51-20 trouncing in the return match last week showed the gap between the teams remained as wide as ever.

A disappointed McKenzie pledged to go back to the drawing board before the next match against South Africa in Perth, and Dwyer, who guided the Wallabies to their maiden World Cup success in 1991, said the former test prop needed to consider wholesale changes.

"We have to look at our whole team," 73-year-old Dwyer said in a phone interview. "I think we need to look again at just what our best team is again.

"My feeling about choosing a team is to ask where do we want to go, how do we get there and who are the people that we need who can, at their best, produce performance that will get us there.

"I think we've got some people, worthwhile members of the side though they may be, that can't get us there."

Barring tenacious 22-year-old captain Michael Hooper, who scored a defiant second half try, the Wallabies had few players who matched their opponents at Eden Park and the halves pairing of Kurtley Beale and Nic White has come under fierce scrutiny.

Dwyer said the Wallabies should revert to the playmaking combinations that propelled the New South Wales Waratahs to the Super Rugby title, with Beale playing outside flyhalf Bernard Foley and scrumhalf Nick Phipps.

"I think Kurtley's wasted at flyhalf, his talents are wasted, we rely on components of his play which are not the best parts of his play," said Dwyer.

"He finds it difficult to underplay his game. That's a definite requirement of flyhalf. He needs space to operate in and that's definitely not what you get at flyhalf."

Using Matt Toomua, who played inside centre the last two tests, as a frontline attacking player was also a "mistake," Dwyer said.

"He's an honest player and very committed and a very good defender (but) any suggestion that he's a ball player is based more on desire rather than fact."

Australia snapped New Zealand's 17-game winning streak in Sydney and ended a similar run in 2012 with a draw in Brisbane, making the Wallabies one of only two teams to deny the All Blacks' complete domination in the past two years.

England were the other, upsetting the All Blacks at Twickenham at the end of their 2012 season.

Defiant performances aside, Australia have also developed a habit of shipping tries against the world champions, conceding more than 40 points in three of their past five matches.

Dwyer said the Wallabies should, nonetheless, take heart they had steadily improved under McKenzie and look at Eden Park as a "hiccup, not a disaster".

They had caught New Zealand at their most dangerous, coming off a disappointing performance and with rugby writers at home writing their obituaries.

"Talk giving the Wallabies a real chance of winning just strengthens their resolve. That's the worst time to be playing them," said Dwyer, whose 1991 Wallabies beat the All Blacks in the semi-finals on the way to their World Cup triumph.

"Now once again, we've been reminded of just what the benchmark is, so that's not such a bad thing."

With Australian rugby awash in red ink and battling to stem a player drain, local fans are desperate for silverware to bolster the sport's profile.

Dwyer, however, said results were the last thing Australia needed to worry about 10 months out from the World Cup.

"In fact, the focus shouldn't be based on outcomes, but based on performances," he added.

"How do we improve the components of our performance? Then go ahead and do it and see whether it's good enough.

"It doesn't take that long. There's definitely enough time (before the World Cup), without any doubt."


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