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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

 

International Teams: Hopes spring from annus horribilis

www.rugbyheaven.smh.com.au

If in 2007 the Wallabies claim their third World Cup, 2005 will be remembered as the year Australian rugby had to have.

Until then it can only be viewed as a year of turmoil, unsatisfactory results and ultimately upheaval in the upper echelons of the game.

Eight losses in the past nine Tests, the sacking of national coach Eddie Jones and the decline of two of Australia's three Super 12 sides suggest as much.

Yet as unflattering as the picture is, it remains incomplete.

Who takes over the Australian side is the big question of 2006; what that person can do for the Wallabies in about 18 months before the World Cup, more pertinent still.

For a new coach the quandaries are many.

Finding the right halfback to replace the out of sorts George Gregan and unleashing the real potential of the Wallaby backline should be high on the list.

Higher still is the need to find two props.

As it turns out the responsibility for all this may end up on the shoulders of a former quality frontrower.

Auckland's David Nucifora and former Reds mentor John Connolly are both in the frame for the vacant Australian coaching role but it's Ewen McKenzie who'll start as favourite for the position.

The NSW coach and former Australian prop took the Waratahs to their first Super 12 final in 2005 and he has worked as an assistant coach in the Australian set-up previously.

Test rugby

It had all started routinely enough for the Wallabies in 2005.

Home victories against minnows Samoa and Italy were followed by a scratchy win over France and a rousing defeat of the Springboks.

The Wallabies went to South Africa with their chins up looking for a first win on the Highvelt since 1963 but came home with their tails between their legs.

There were consecutive Test defeats and a nightclub fracas, which resulted in back-up halfback Matt Henjak being sent home and fines being handed out to Wendell Sailor, Lote Tuqiri and Matt Dunning.

Worse was to come.

As the Tri-Nations unravelled the Australians' injury toll began to mount - at one stage 17 players were unavailable for selection - and the Wallabies went on to lose two more Tests against New Zealand and another against the South Africans to suffer their first whitewash in the competition.

The spring tour to Europe brought with it no relief, three losses in four Tests including the ultimate indignity for a forward pack - the declaration of non-contestable scrums during the loss to England - left Jones in an untenable position.

His abysmal record playing the top four nations overseas - two wins from 15 since he took over from Rod Macqueen in 2001 - left many wondering how he could possibly lead Australia to World Cup glory in France.

Jones was subsequently sacked by ARU chief executive Gary Flowers before the coach had a chance to present to the board.

While many reputations were savaged on and off the field in 2005 with the likes of Gregan, props Bill Young and Al Baxter and centre Stirling Mortlock expected to struggle to crack future national teams, a few will be at the vanguard of Australia's push towards 2007.

Fullback Chris Latham had his second consecutive outstanding season, outside back Drew Mitchell showed poise and promise in his first international season and Tatafu Polota-Nau may well find himself wearing the Australian No. 2 jumper by the World Cup.

And Nathan Sharpe's reputation was enhanced with his second Rugby Medal for Excellence, voted on by his peers.

But Australia's minor achievements paled next to the success of New Zealand this year.

The cynics might suggest the All Blacks are again peaking superbly midway through a World Cup cycle but with such irresistible form and the deepest of squads, New Zealand will be the team to beat in 2006.

Their Tri-Nations series victory was capped with Grand Slam success over the home countries in Europe in a year that included just the one loss - to South Africa in Cape Town.

The cream for the Kiwis was the surprise November 17 announcement that they'd beaten warm favourite South Africa and Japan to be named host of the 2011 World Cup.

That vote in turn played its part in further upheaval for Australia with ARU chairman Dilip Kumar resigning after backing Japan, earning the wrath of the Kiwis and then subsequently a number of his board members. He was replaced at the helm by Former Wallaby Ron Graham.

With a monster forward pack, the Springboks (eight wins, one draw, three losses in 2005 Tests) showed they could mount a serious challenge for the 2007 version of the event; Wales had their moments with a 2005 Six Nations triumph and France recorded wins over the last three World Cup winners in England, Australia and South Africa.

Super 12

The new season brings with it a new competition as Super 12 moves to a 14-team format in 2006.

Perth-based Western Force and South Africa's Central Cheetahs fill the two new spots but may struggle initially against the established franchises.

The Force have at least recruited well in the coaching ranks with former All Black mentor John Mitchell steering the nascent team while the Bloemfontein based Cheetahs had to deal with the wranglings of the South African Rugby Union (SARU) and only got full confirmation of their inclusion in the competition in June.

They'll be up against the established order in 2006 and of that group it is hard to go past the NSW Waratahs after their breakthrough 2005 season.

Under the stewardship of McKenzie the perennial underachievers reached the Super 12 final, going down to the dominant southern hemisphere team of the past decade, the Crusaders, 35-25.

With Dan Vickerman and the now departed Justin Harrison ruling the lineout, first year wing sensation Peter Hewat finishing the top point scorer and the likes of Tuqiri and Mat Rogers there to add the final touches the Waratahs at last converted promise to results.

But for a bizarre decision to go for a penalty goal instead of having a tilt at a fourth try and bonus point in the ultimate round of competition, the Waratahs may have found themselves hosting a home final against the all-conquering Crusaders.

Instead they travelled to Christchurch and went down to a team that claimed its fifth Super 12 title and sent champion halfback Justin Marshall out a winner.

For the other two Australian franchises, life was a lot tougher.

Laurie Fisher may have inherited the 2004 champion Brumbies but it was a dual-edged endowment.

The names such as Gregan, Stephen Larkham and George Smith may have still been there and injuries were always a factor but they still looked and played like a team past their best as the competition unfolded.

Five wins saw them finish in fifth and they may struggle to do much better next year.

It was a horrid year for the Queenslanders who finished 10th, suffered their first Super 12 loss to NSW and got in early to tell coach Jeff Miller he wasn't required after his contract expires at the end of 2006.

Among others they lose captain Nathan Sharpe to the Force and Sailor to NSW and with them it seems any real prospect of the Reds being amongst the achievers of the new competition.

Of the other teams South Africa's Bulls continued their steady rise to finish third in 2005 and the Hurricanes showed great depth to make the semifinals.

With Nucifora in charge the uber-talented Auckland Blues should be up there battling with them for a finals tilt next year.

AAP
Comments:
Watching SA play cricket is like getting a big kick in the balls.......every single ball of every single over.

We are destined to celebrate fighting draws.

My kingdom for a win.
The Fink is a King.
 
Howzit all

Yip Cricket is surely not something to be bullish about- hope it will improve.

St pete- How was your X-mas menu?
 
Hello Orange

Christmas was a drag, to busy for my liking!!

Family all arrive today....aaarrgh!

How come we can never put 500 up on the board against the Ozzies?
 
St Pete

Hope the family has brought some Bull Biltong ;-)

Yip, it really seams that we are their bunnies-if there ever was a chance- but let's not get carried away over cricket.
 
OO
Jy's iewers in jou heimat - Noordoos-Kaap?
Kan nie onthou wanneer laas ons weke lank so 'n non-stop suidooster gehad het nie - waai deur die nagte ook.
Die slimmes kom Kaap toe Maart-Mei.
Jip, ek dink die Proteas gaan verwelk in hul tweede beurt. HKGK.
 
Hi Boertjie

Ek is terug in Bloem.

Yip daai wind van julle is lelik- April is die tyd om Kaap toe te gaan.

Heng maar dit is stil hier.
 
Boertjie

Het jy vir Chris Greyvenstein goed geken?
 
Hallo OO
Vir Chris geken ja. Hy was redakteur van The Sportsman tydskrif, waar ek my eerste artikel gepubliseer gekry het - nogal in Ingels.
Agterna van tyd tot tyd kontak gehad, maar nie genoeg nie. As ek geweet het hy is op sterwe, sou ek hom vir oulaas wou opsoek.
Chris was 'n saggeaarde mens wat ook sag gepraat het en was 'n absoluut toegewyde sportjoernalis. Ook 'n groot bokskenner, en ons het nogal dikwels oor boks gesels.
Ook baie met AC Parker gesels.
 
Ons krieket lyk maar kakkerig maar dis darem amper weer rugby tyd.Ek sit in Roturua op die oomblik en die plek het so n permanenete sulpheriese klank in die lug van al die geotermiese aktiwiteite in die area.Gisborne is die plek in die wereld wat die som eerste sien opkom so dis nogals n goeie plek vir nuwejaars.Al ding is hulle het sulke streng reels wat drink in die openbaar en dronk op straat aan betref.Soos al genoem as die bouncer dink jy is gesuip laat hy jou nie eers in die jol in nie.Dis belaglik,seersekerlik kan n volwasse persoon self besliut wanneer hulle genoeg gehad het om tedrink.Dis taai manne.Die girls is nie mooi nie so jy moet maar n paar doppe in jou gat he net om die edge af tevat en dan kan die bouncer ook besluit jy mag nie inkom nie.Die rede hoekom die vleis so hiper supersonies kak is is omdat hulle glo al die goeie goed uitvoer.Well thats their story and they are sticking to it.
Wel manne geniet haar.
bliksem
 
Bliksem
Dankie vir jou verslae oor Mud Island.
Voer hul beste vleis uit? Sjoe, as die taai stront met die baie vet aan wat ons so tien jaar of wat gelede van hulle ingevoer het hul beste is...
Maar dit gaan hier ook maar so met ons appels en perskes en wat ookal.
Lekker kuier - moenie lat hulle jou uitgooi nie :-) En sĂȘ groete vir Tackler.
 
Howzit all

Yip I know that is an contradiction in terms but anyway- howzit

Orakel listens to the cyber echo and wonder what bizarre nothingness will happen next time when he hit F5.

He is still in a good mood as he had not looked at the cricket score yet......
 
hello manne,

ek is terug na 'n hele paar dae in die cyber duisternis...moenie vra nie.

kandas,

ek is seker jy kom so nou en dan op, ek het kak met my mail, my krismis boodskap het nie eens uitgegaan nie, ek sal n yahoo account of iets moet create om jou die mail te stuur.
 
PA

Stuur die mail pappie stuur. Ek het gedink ek gaan bietjie vakansie hou maar die manne neuk my op aan die kant. Dinge roer maar ek sou graag ons storie wou uitsorteer.

All the Board members [especially Rasputin :)], I'm sending yo a very important mail regarding the site a bit later today. Please be on the lookout for it.
 
Hallo dudes

Sort jou mail uit PA- of laat weet my jou yahoo enetjie

Kandas- het jy my mail oor die moontlike Cheetah supporter toer gekry?
 
OO

Gekry ja. Stuur vir my info oor wat julle beplan van daai kant af en ek kyk wat ek kan doen.
 
Hey kandas

the new year stuff is looking quite nifty
 
Thanks OO

Just messing around today :)
 
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