Chris Rattue: Wallabies just a pack of Melting Matildas


The All Blacks will be the best side by streets at the World Cup next year. It won't even be close.

Whether they win the trophy or not is another matter. If the World Cup was a championship, no team would touch them. As the Webb Ellis Cup is decided by sudden-death games, anything is possible, as everybody knows.

Graham Henry's new-look side is so far ahead of the pack that the Bledisloe Cup game in Christchurch this week is in danger of turning into a massacre, with the Awful Aussies ripe for a hiding.

The problem for Australia isn't skill. The problem is a lack of muscle power and heart.

This Aussie team has too many powder puffs, particularly in the forwards. They just aren't hard enough. Rescue options aren't obvious but Robbie Deans' selections might be the area under question.

With a pack that wobbles like a jelly, Australia needs powerful backs to compensate but instead they have lightweights whose skill gets obliterated.

"That was like Saturday afternoon at Colin Maiden Park," a work colleague opined, after the All Blacks had waltzed past the Melting Matildas to the tryline yet again.

The decline in Australian rugby has been going on since well before the last World Cup.

They are good enough - just - to fire up for one upset win at home a year. Beyond that, they are an embarrassment who might take Australian rugby down with them.

Thanks to the emergence of tough, aggressive and mobile forwards - particularly the Franks brothers and Kieran Read - the All Blacks are not only in charge of world rugby, but capable of far higher achievements when they peak.

If injury does not strike - and the Richie McCaw factor cannot be emphasised too strongly here - they will be even better come World Cup time. The big question is: will their nerve hold on the big stage when it comes to playing the expansive game.

Melbourne was a staggering triumph for the All Blacks and an unmitigated disaster for the Wallabies who are so over-powered that - ironically - they may actually need to kick more.

Some of these Wallabies are club standard only. Blokes like the new prop Salesi Ma'afu play as if they are fresh out of a handbag. Richard Brown tries hard but is a wannabe test number eight and the way Cory Jane pushed him off was awful.

The Tri-Nations has shown that the rule interpretation tweaks discouraging obsessive kicking have completely turned the game's potential around.

Rugby was dying a horrible death when mired in aerial ping-pong, but can now be a magnificent place where speed, fitness, brute strength and skill with the ball flourish.

The problem is, only Henry's All Blacks have effectively taken the ball by the hands. Other teams won't try to match them next year, because they will lose out. The Northern Hemisphere behemoths will favour rolling mauls.

The IRB have tweaked superbly in one area, and they might now turn their attention to the yellow card fever.

You are lucky to see a 15 on 15 contest any more. Big, tough test rugby players are even making appeals towards the referee, like wimpy soccer players.

The unsatisfactory element to this wasn't helped on Saturday night by television's inability to reveal why Drew Mitchell - later red-carded by Craig Joubert for a stupid professional foul - was given his first yellow card.

I have scoured the tape and can't find anything Mitchell did that might have earned the ire of touch judge Jonathan Kaplan, who ruled a late, no-arms tackle. Maybe it happened, maybe it didn't.

Owen Franks, who is emerging as a stunning tighthead, did not deserve to be yellow-carded either. The sort of tackle he put in on Brown is what we all want to see. It was not a shoulder charge - Franks tried to curl his left arm around the ball-carrier and made crushing contact with his chest. At best, a referee might suspect a bad tackle and give a penalty, but to send a player off for this is where rugby is falling down.

I'm constantly amazed and impressed by television's ability to find incidents around sports fields, but Sky didn't have one of its better nights in Melbourne and the commentators couldn't compensate.

Another crucial moment occurred when Australia failed to find touch from a penalty and Franks was sin-binned, but we didn't find out who the errant kicker was.

There was also a question mark raised by the commentators over a Mils Muliaina try, as to whether he was on side from Cory Jane's remarkable kick in a tackle. Again, no acceptable visual evidence could be presented.

But our commentary standards have been raised by Justin Marshall, who has watered down an overpowering All Black bias.

Marshall treats the All Blacks' opponents with respect, and life as a matter of swings and roundabouts for every one. Maybe this is because he has recently lived overseas, outside the Kiwi rugby bubble, and knows the whole world isn't lying awake at night, plotting against our precious All Blacks.

Or maybe it is because he has always had a better perspective than the rugby pack, and found it refreshingly easy to speak his mind.

Marshall may not have completely honed his commentary skills yet, but his influence is already terrific.

Even one-eyed Grant Nisbett - a pretty good run of play caller - appears to have taken this mood on board, helped perhaps by the All Blacks' rampaging form which has rendered all those dreadful decisions that only ever go against them as irrelevant for now.

- NZ Herald

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