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By The Roar
*Disclaimer - Views expressed within this story are not necessarily the views of the ARU or rugby.com.au
Every single successful team has a few players who exude grit, determination and stand up most when crunch time comes. They aren’t just ‘clutch’ as much as they grab the big moments.
Who can do that for the Wallabies?
Looking at teams that achieve great things over the years you’ll notice the individuals that do something special at the right time on too many occasions to be coincidence.
Last season in the NBA play-offs LeBron James had his moment. He’d been the greatest basketballer on the planet for a number of years without winning that elusive championship.
He’d come close but never sealed the deal – copping criticism for shying away in the big moments, especially the 2011 Finals against the Dallas Mavericks.
In the Eastern Conference finals James’ Miami Heat opened up a 2-0 nil lead over the ageing Boston Celtics, a path to the finals looked assured.
Then the Heat travelled to Boston and lost twice in a row and once more back on home court. Suddenly the secure lead was a 2-3 deficit in the series and the same old jeers about not winning the big moments came back.
Then, on the road in Boston, Lebron James submitted one of the best basketball performances in NBA history.
Notice the crowd. They are very tepid for what is usually a parochial, loud Boston arena. They understood.
Confident and almost without emotion (see the look on his face at the 53 second mark after he goes coast-to-coast – that’s Blue Steel) James decided he wasn’t going to take no for an answer and drilled 30 points in the first half to effectively end the discussion of being eliminated.
His 45 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assist was a masterpiece.
Who will do that for the Wallabies?
Not necessarily be the best player in the world, but submit their absolute best performances when their backs are against the wall.
You can feel it when Richie McCaw is about to win a crucial turnover in a big game. You see him present at the ruck more often all of a sudden, seeking the chance to rip the game away from the opposition.
Stirling Mortlock has delivered heart-in-mouth spectacles plenty of times. When the game was in the balance he’d sneak an intercept, crunch someone backwards, jolt the ball loose or bend the line and set up a move.
Often in Super Rugby the successful Crusaders fortunes have improved not after a few flashy moments from their brilliant backs, or big hits in the pack, but from the cool head of Dan Carter raking a kick downfield in a small gap between the wing and sideline into 22m area, suddenly allowing his team to pile on the pressure.
Executing well when everyone else gets tight.
For the Waratahs in the first half of the year it was Dave Dennis often making that crucial penetrating run with his perfect body height in the dying moments, getting his side forward momentum needed to score.
Think about the end of the Chiefs and Blues wins where he set the winning movements in motion. Since then he’s faded and probably doesn’t have the stature to carry out that task at the highest level.
For the Wallabies I did think Will Genia would be the man to supply the stand-up-when-it-counts moments – his absolutely heroic charge to the line in the 2011 grand final gave an inkling he was that sort of player.
His form – unless he’s been purposefully pacing himself – hasn’t been consistently good enough all year for me to feel he’ll do that consistently.
One player that has caught my eye in this regard in 2013, against all previous trends, is Scott Higginbotham.
Playing as the new captain of a side struggling big time, Higginbotham has literally been leading a huge turnaround in fortunes at the club. Again and again he’s delivered not just skilful plays, but timely and physically admirable moments.
Will he be able to translate the same sort of awareness of the game situation into the Test arena this year?
Test rugby and perhaps more so a Lions Tour is won by the few gaps between the tense arm-wrestle where, on the back of a mighty group effort, an individual stands up with a piece of brilliance, strength or execution under pressure.
For the Wallabies to be successful this year and into the future they need to unearth some players who thrive when there is something at stake.
Fan article originally published on The Roar's sports opinion website. Submit your own Rugby article to The Roar for potential publication on Rugby.com.au/Wallabies