Connolly: Does the picture always tell the story?

John Connolly Profile
by John Connolly

Test Rugby is a results business but the margins are so fine, the scoreline often doesn't tell the real story.

Any coach who has ever coached at international level knows this much - when you win a Test, your performance is never really perfect and a win can sometimes paint over some cracks. When you lose a Test, its never really as bad as it seems.

The Wallabies have come under some criticism from fans after their performances in the opening two Tests against England, particularly in Melbourne.

England played tough and deserved the win, but when you control over 70 per cent of possession like Australia did, you've done a lot of things right.

Australia could have easily won both matches and could be heading to Sydney this week having wrapped up the series. Even though this isn't the case, things aren't as bad as they appear and its not time to panic.

There are a few factors that contributed to Australia's demise at AAMI Park.

Firstly, I don't think we varied our play enough. We didn't attack England enough around the rucks and repeatedly tried to attack the wider channels. By not attacking around the rucks, we didn't suck the England defenders in and make them commit numbers to the breakdown area to open up the space out wide.

Nick Phipps is a real competitor but to be effective at Test level he needs to carry the ball more often. England's defensive line was comfortable given there was no real running threat around the ruck.

Phipps on the attack

Secondly, we were obsessed with playing with ball in hand. Its hard not to fall into the temptation, because the demand from the Australian public is to see attacking Rugby. It looks appealing, but it doesn't always win games. You need to have a really strong tactical kicking game to win Test matches.

Finally, in a tight contest like Saturday night's, you have to take the points when they are on offer. Eddie Jones would have breathed a sigh of relief at the decision not to take the shots at goal after we were awarded those penalties late in the second half.

The game plan employed by Eddie against the Wallabies was ripped straight out of the handbook of another Australian coach, Michael Foley.

Last season when Michael Cheika was coaching the Waratahs, the Western Force beat the defending Super Rugby champions twice, despite finishing the year with only three wins.

In those two wins over New South Wales, particularly the second game in Perth late in the season which was a dour struggle, the Force played very little Rugby, similar to the way England have approached the first two matches on this tour. They slowed down the Waratahs ball, had very good line speed in defence, and kicked well. The Waratahs, like the Wallabies on Saturday night, played too laterally and made mistakes at crucial times and weren't able to sustain any pressure.

Eddie described his tactics as "rope a dope" in his press conference after the win on Saturday night and you could make an argument that Australia lost the game as opposed to England winning it.

Back on Michael Foley, the news last week that he was let go from the Western Force just astounded me. Based on results alone a 30% success rate isn't brilliant, but there's two ways you can look at that. With the talent he had at his disposal, its a solid effort. With a player list like the Force have had during his four seasons, the best they could hope for is a mid-table finish.In a previous article for, I outlined the challenges for the Force and why its the toughest post in Australian Rugby.

During Foley's tenure, there is no doubt the Force punched above their weight. He recognised with the challenges he faced in recruitment that he had to think outside the square, grabbing the likes of Alby Mathewson from New Zealand and building connections in South Africa.

His record in developing players is also unquestionable. Dane Haylett-Petty has made the step up to the Wallabies alongside Ben McCalman, and Adam Coleman is in the squad for the England Series. Nathan Charles and Tetera Faulkner have also played at Test level in the last three years and Luke Morahan is back in the Wallabies squad.

I find it most interesting that with a perceived lack of success across the organisation, the Force administration remains in tact despite Foley's departure.

The thing about Foley's style is that he perhaps isn't the best at managing "up". Anyone who works in just about any business will know someone like that.

If you look at some of the most successful coaches across all of the codes, some of them aren't terribly close to the administration but are loved by the players. I'd put Wayne Bennett, and even Michael Cheika in this category.

I have heard there were tears and disbelief when Foley informed the players last week of his exit. They have said they will continue to play for him for the final three rounds of the season.

The best judge of a coach are his players. But they don't get to make the decisions. The decision on Foley was made by people a lot less qualified to make it.

As for Michael, I have no doubt he'll get snapped up by someone in Europe in no time.

John 'Knuckles' Connolly, was a former Wallabies and Queensland Reds Head Coach, and has in the past worked with the Stade Français, Swansea RFC as well as Bath Rugby.

The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the ARU.

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