|Rediff India Abroad Home | All the sections|
Are the Wallabies feinting?
Julian Linden in Sydney | November 13, 2003 09:52 IST
Australia's scratchy form in the rugby World Cup 2003 has everybody confused.
Some believe the Wallabies are crumbling under the pressure of defending their title on home soil. Others think it is part of an elaborate plan to lull their opponents into a false sense of security.
Eddie Jones, like any professional coach, is giving nothing away, repeating the old coach's mantra that his team is taking it one match at a time.
But Wales's coach Steve Hansen let the cat out of the bag on Sunday when he explained that his Red Dragons, who impressed everyone with their sudden improvement after a change of tactics from the quarter-final stage, had been foxing the others all along. Hansen added that he suspects other sides of doing the same.
France, written off as title contenders after an ordinary build-up to the tournament, also appear to have caught some of their big rivals napping with their flying start and Jones has dropped a few hints that the Wallabies have been keeping plenty up the sleeve too.
"At the end of the day, when the minutes count, we'll play the best rugby," he said. "I think it will be won by the smartest side."
There is every reason to suspect that Jones might be about to unveil an entirely new strategy in Saturday's semi-final against New Zealand.
The All Blacks are clear favourites to win the tournament, but no one knows better than Australia that the secret to beating them is to stop them playing their own style.
"We have got the confidence that if we play well, we have got the game to beat the All Blacks," Jones said.
The Wallabies won the last rugby World Cup partly because they were the first to employ a full-time rugby league defensive coach who introduced a pattern that was so tight that Australia leaked just one try in the whole tournament.
Four years on, almost every major team has a rugby league defensive coach using the same patterns, so the emphasis this time has switched to attack.
As teams struggle to find ways through the new defensive patterns, Australia have again turned to rugby league for more help, recruiting three of the best attacking backs in Wendell Sailor, Mat Rogers and Lote Tuqiri.
Using rugby league players might explain one theory that Australia plan to shift their point of attack from the side of the field to the middle, copying a tactic that evolved in league about a decade ago.
Rugby union teams have traditionally worked the ball through the forwards towards the left or right sideline to give the backs as much room as possible before swinging it wide in the hope of finding an overlap.
But in league, teams attack from centrefield, giving them the option to go instantly left or right.
There has been no hard proof that Australia will use this tactic against the All Blacks this weekend, but there is some circumstantial evidence.
This limits their effectiveness at the lineout, but allows them to get to the breakdown quickly, no matter which side of the field they go.
Elton Flatley, who normally plays flyhalf, has been chosen at inside centre, giving the Wallabies the option of playing ball distributors either side of the ruck.
New Zealand's assistant coach Robbie Deans said the All Blacks knew Australia were planning something. "Who knows what they're concocting?" he said. "You won't know until the day."