Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Aussie sides too soft

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Brumbies utility Robbie Coleman is collared by Crusaders midfielder Ryan Crotty. Photo / Getty Images
Brumbies utility Robbie Coleman is collared by Crusaders midfielder Ryan Crotty. Photo / Getty Images

Another season, the same old problem for Australian rugby. They're soft.

The Reds and Brumbies weren't beaten by the Blues and Crusaders. They were beaten up. The Aussies look no closer to fielding a test team capable of more than just clinging on through a season.

The Blues were mightily impressive at Eden Park, but they were allowed to be. John Kirwan found the way to let big bangers like Charles Piutau loose. The Blues are still operating without a dominating presence at No10, but no matter. To put it nicely - the Reds were gun shy. To put it another way, they were powderpuffs.

The Crusaders, with a near test-quality pack, smallish backline and early injury setbacks, dominated the confrontation areas against the Brumbies. The 33-year-old Richie McCaw, in another comeback, was able to shine in the trenches. Rather than expose their scrum in a prime attacking position, the Brumbies preferred a lineout from which their rolling maul rolled nowhere.

Australia did have one transtasman victory, the Waratahs winning an entertaining scramble against the Hurricanes in Sydney. But in a memorable moment, test lock Kane Douglas' initially impressive spot tackle on Beauden Barrett was shrugged off by the little first-five.

There are two big beacons of hope for the Wallabies. One is Israel Folau, obviously. If the Wallabies use him well, the 103kg fullback - a marvellous athlete - partly compensates for a lack of grunt in front of him. The Wallabies can also send crossfield bombs to the corners, hoping the cross-coder leaps for tries.

The other is Waratahs lock Will Skelton. The Auckland-born monster isn't hard or fit enough yet, but at 22 he has time. Skelton is a potential signpost for Aussie rugby, which must find stronger men - whether it be physical, mental or a combination - to build a future on.

It's shaping as another long haul for the Aussies in 2014. For starters, they need to win the Bledisloe Cup if the old trophy is to find new lustre. But they are more likely to be overwhelmed again by the All Blacks' power advantage and depth in backs and forwards.

Watch: Rugby Highlights: Blues 44 Reds 14

The Wallabies' spots of absolute class will inspire the odd success, but they will struggle to string powerful test performances together. The combined might of the All Black pack backed by hard chargers such as Piutau, Ma'a Nonu and Julian Savea usually gives Australia nightmares.

A lack of grunt was at the heart of former Wallaby coach Robbie Deans' misguided approach and miserable record against the All Blacks. The blueprint must include larger footprints and a new generation awaits the call. But for now, if Australian rugby has learned the lesson the proof isn't evident.

Anzac agonies
From the don't know whether to laugh or cry department ... the Kiwis surprised the many, well-reasoned doomsdayers but then again, they lost yet another Anzac test to Australia. Rugby's Bledisloe Cup may be a dead duck thanks to the All Blacks' overwhelming dominance, but at least it has seen many better days. The Anzac league contest quickly grew into a dud because the Kiwis haven't competed strongly enough. There was something lame about Friday night's match in Sydney which lacked a stoush, or the threat of one. A headline said the Kiwis went down fighting, yet in some respects they didn't. At the end of the game, the combatants politely shook hands, and some chatted. This is very modern and nice, but tame. A transtasman rugby league clash has become an inter-NRL game, and England-based interlopers don't even make the cut any more. Many Kiwis of the modern era have been in Australia since a young age, or even their entire lives. Back in the day, it was genuinely them and us. Lines of loyalty are blurred. Pardon the interruption, but the rivalry no longer feels totally right. The Anzac clash is better than no international rugby league at all, but only just.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

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