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New Era: self-belief and players the Wallabies must back

I am a young supporter, I don’t have the Golden Era of Wallabies to look back on with fond memories, it is rather a part of history.

I’m similar age to the men in the current Wallaby squad, the mean age of the players will be 27 heading into the World Cup. Many pundits look back at the 90s and early 2000s and see a fall from grace. What I see, is a young team that is teetering on the edge of something great, and I hope they see this too.

Sometimes growth comes with hard lessons like the one against Los Pumas. The loss in San Juan stung, not because we lost, but because we lost by such a big margin. Argentina are a quality side, and everyone knows an infant team under Michael Cheika are lethal. It stung because it felt as though the Wallabies lost momentum, lost focus and for the first time under Rennie failed to execute their fundamental game plan.

This is not a Rennie bashing article. Rennie has revolutionised the Wallabies’ mindset, depth, and skill level, but as a current fan I want to see the Wallabies win.

South African YouTuber Riaan Louw joined The Roar rugby experts Brett McKay and Harry Jones for a fun-filled chat on why the Australia-South Africa rivalry is so friendly, on the most-loved and most-ignored rugby stats, on weird rugby fantasies and how the Wallabies v Springboks series will play out

Winning starts with a game plan, understanding that game plan and belief in the game plan. We have the players to execute, so why didn’t we?

Rennie says injuries (16 of them) are not an excuse. Good, I agree. But inconsistency in selection doesn’t help either. Consistency and combinations are imperative at international level, this is a truism and yet Rennie has strayed away from it.

There is a plethora of young Wallabies, but I have chosen to focus on flyhalf Noah Lolesio (22yrs) and fullback Tom Wright (25yrs), because they have come on leaps and bounds from last year.

Lolesio had an outstanding England series. He attacked well, defended bravely, and took every highball that came at him fearlessly. Australia lost that series because we were dominated upfront, especially at set-piece time.

To not even pick Lolesio on the bench in San Juan was an evident mistake, and Rennie has since said James O’Connor failed to “implement the game plan” which made for “clunky” play with a lack of “cohesion.”

Lolesio’s combination with Nic White achieves that cohesion and confidence – trusting himself more with Whitey inside him. O’Connor has been dropped for the South Africa Tests, so Noah is our ten, although he is more of a running ten than an orchestrator like Cooper, he is learning to pull the strings and his game is maturing quickly. Rennie is content with the improvements Lolesio has made in his game.

Now comes the fullback debate. Australia bled points against Los Pumas and will do so against the Springboks if they lose the aerial battle.

The first, fourth and disallowed fifth try in San Juan came from misplays from Jordan Petaia, O’Connor and Wright. The first we can chalk-up to overzealous play. The second a complete miscommunication between White, Petaia and O’Connor, and the third came from poor protection for Wright who was competing for the ball.

That is 14, and possibly 21, points given away cheaply, but this is not a call for panic stations, it is just one of those hard lessons mentioned at the start of the article.

Rennie’s men have known they need to dominate the air, preparing for an aerial battle against England and South Africa, making the mess at the back even more frustrating. You only need to look at the Wallabies’ Instagram to see story after story of Suliasi Vunivalu, Marika Koroibete, Petaia, Wright, and Reece Hodge practicing catching high balls (poor Scotty Wisemantel IYKYK).

Rennie has cited Wright’s communication, vision and attacking skillset as defining factors as to why he’s gotten the nod ahead of Petaia. For the sake of consistency, Wright should start at fullback: he is having the season of his life with a try scoring frenzy at Super level and strong back-to-back games for the Wallabies. Two weeks will give him time to nail his craft.

These two positions have been singled out as areas where the Wallabies lost against Los Pumas and the two players were chosen because I believe they are the ones who will and must step-up against the Springboks in Adelaide and beyond.

Rennie needs to sit Noah and Tom down and tell them they have the job, letting them know they have the full support of the coaches and players.

To put external options out of mind is important, both Bernard Foley and Andrew Kellaway are not fit and ready for this match, period.

As fans we have seen glimpses of greatness in every game, with the Wallabies creating opportunity after opportunity, playing exciting running rugby only to be thwarted by a final bad pass, poor pick-and-go or bizarre refereeing decision. They were in with solid chance of clinching the England series, showed the character to be champions in Mendoza and they have the players to execute the game plan.  Adelaide is chance to show that the players believe in it and themselves.

Because what we have seen is that the game plan works. If they took every opportunity they created, they would be out-scoring teams week-in week-out. Now is the time for the players to believe they can be great and that is a big mindset shift, but now is the time to make it.

 

Rugby – The Roar 

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