Rugby: Tough for McKenzie to turn Aussies round

By Wynne Gray, in Wellington

Australia's rugby coach Ewen McKenzie. Photo / Getty Images
Australia's rugby coach Ewen McKenzie. Photo / Getty Images

There was never any backdown from Ewen McKenzie when he played for the Wallabies and he's unlikely to change that stance in his selections for the return Bledisloe Cup test.

One forced alteration has to be made to fill the vacancy left by injured blindside flanker Hugh McMeniman with another of the Brumbies, Scott Fardy, seen as a like-for-like replacement.

Elsewhere McKenzie will have dissected the tape of the 47-29 defeat last week in Sydney and, like any coach with his considerable responsibility, listed the repair jobs and productive pieces.

He will have unpicked the plans his group had for the opening test and compared those strategies with the game his players delivered.

He will also have thought hard about the mental welfare in his group, a side who were asked to put into practice inside 10 days the revised Wallaby schemes for the international arena.

If that was the best group a week ago, McKenzie will have a long think before making any knee-jerk reaction. Culling players will suggest even more uncertainty within the Wallaby ranks.

Most inspection will have been on fullback Jesse Mogg and James O'Connor and whether Ben Mowen is better suited with a positional switch to the blindside from No8.

McMeniman's injury is probably enough change in the pack while O'Connor is a talent who, like Israel Folau, needs to get into more action.

There will be some pushing for a switch of Quade Cooper for Matt Toomua at five-eighths but logic would give the young man another match with a better game-plan. Little from the Wallabies in Sydney suited his playing characteristics.

Mogg should be the most under threat.

He had a strong Super 15 but was found out in the final and the All Blacks inflicted similar pain in Sydney. He was secure under the high ball but his work after that, finding support, taking the tackle or finding space, was erratic.

When the All Blacks kicked to his right, Mogg showed he had a very weak kick off his right peg, while another from his strong side that missed touch gifted the All Blacks possession which they turned into points.

However, the bush telegraph yesterday from the western territory had a strong line that Mogg would be named to start again.

What will have concentrated McKenzie's mind more will be getting all his squad onto the same wavelength, understanding what they were about and how their ball protection must improve a great deal.

They have to understand their starter moves and what the following attacking ideas are.

There were signs. Adam Ashley-Cooper's slice between Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith and several grunty forward patches offered payback before the all-too-frequent errors.

The Wallaby scrum also needs to get a stronger focus. It held in Sydney but the pressure was so great Stephen Moore could not strike for the ball and halfback Will Genia tried all sorts of delayed or incorrect feeds.

Not that he was alone. Aaron Smith struggled to get a connection with his frontrow and referee Craig Joubert's commands.

While the new three-step engagement may be deemed a worthy process, waiting for the referee to tell halfbacks when to put the ball in seems far too pedantic.

- NZ Herald

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