Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Mark Ella finds Wallabies' lack of progress frustrating

O'Connor is tackled by Lion Brian O'Driscoll. Photo / Getty Images
O'Connor is tackled by Lion Brian O'Driscoll. Photo / Getty Images

Wallaby legend Mark Ella remains exasperated by the present side.

He has seen little in the test series with the Lions to persuade him the Wallabies are making progress.

"I am frustrated by our play," he said. "To put it in some context, I think the All Blacks would have beaten us by 20 points the way we played in Brisbane and Melbourne.

"We had bucketloads of chances in Melbourne but the fundamentals broke down and that is what concerns me.

"We have been holding our breath, especially in Brisbane, and then it was little better in Melbourne, there was nothing special," the Hall of Fame five-eighths said.

Coach Robbie Deans needed to win the series to maintain his credibility and part of that challenge and public uncertainty zeroed in on James O'Connor's contributions at first five-eighths.

Ella advocated that O'Connor be used in the Wallaby midfield and he sees him making the same sort of impact there that another legend, Tim Horan, did.

O'Connor was a very competent footballer. However he had not produced what Deans needed when he declared his faith in him at the start of the Lions series. "O'Connor has the components we are looking for," Deans said at the start of June.

"He traumatises defences. He keeps the attack very square, which provides opportunities for the channels around him."

Several times, Ella said, he had squared the line in Melbourne but it was too rare. He would be better value for the team further out where he could deliver messages instead of having to be the all-consuming director. "All the chopping and changing of ideas and our five-eighths gets frustrating," Ella said. "How long are we going to give this idea, how much will we persevere?

"If it was an All Black team they would know their side three weeks out from their next test. Over here we go through all sorts of theories."

Ella nominated either of the Brumbies pivots, Matt Toomua or Christian Leali'ifano, as players to fill the No10 role. "They are good old-fashioned players who are comfortable playing as first receiver. They know what that job entails and they play there a lot. They are used to it and they are not trying to look good or get extra money on their contracts.

"We need that sort of player at five-eighths. We have lost the art of setting a backline going and making the right decisions. Instead we are dropping deeper or looking to bring individual acts of inspiration."

Predictions for tonight's decider in Sydney then on the back of that five-eighths pessimism?

"The Wallaby forwards have been outstanding, they have stepped up to the mark and are on form. Out in the three-quarters there is enterprise and skill with Kurtley [Beale] and Israel [Folau] but there are things missing," Ella said.

"We have to find much better cohesion and play with skill and pace if we are going to come out on top in this one."

- NZ Herald

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