England almost stopped New Zealand’s unbeaten run through 2013 in London; star All Black fly-half Dan Carter played his 100th Test; but Australia stole the headlines when six players were suspended for drinking.
Wallabies Coach Pragmatic
Senior players were involved, but perennial bad-boy Quade Cooper wasn’t. Cooper was sacked by former coach Robbie Deans, then re-called by present Wallaby coach Ewen McKenzie, who named him vice-captain.
Before the Northern Tour, McKenzie sacked star utility back James O’Connor for disciplinary reasons. O’Connor, Cooper and another star back, Kurtley Beale, were known as the Three Amigos, following recurring behavioural issues.
It was widely reported that team-mates had lost patience with the trio – now, 15 of those team-mates have been either censured or suspended.
Most of the headlines included the words “drink binge”. In fact, the players went out in Dublin on the Tuesday before the Irish Test and returned after 1pm.
McKenzie said there was no curfew, but players were required to be in the hotel by midnight.
The mother of one of the players, 90-Test utility-back Adam Ashley-Cooper, who is highly respected, said her son had been wrongly portrayed as a drunk.
Alcohol was not the problem—“It was the time he got home,” Karen Ashley-Cooper said.
Former Wallaby Drew Mitchell also jumped to his friend’s defence.
“The saddest thing is that some players think drinking a few beers is worse for the culture than texting [rubbish] behind their team-mates’ backs,” Mitchell posted.
This suggests a rift between players. When contacted, Mitchell wouldn’t elaborate.
On Saturday (Nov 16), Australia beat Ireland 32-15 in Dublin. That shows McKenzie was pragmatic in his punishment.
Far better to suspend the players against Scotland for this Sunday’s (Nov 24) match, than against the Irish, who trouble the Wallabies.
Having said that, McKenzie has been decisive.
“We’re a high-performance team and we’re trying to climb the hill … and get back to the top of world rugby,” he said.
“It’s a significant enough challenge as it is … without making it difficult for ourselves.”
McKenzie said he was setting standards that would enable the team to be competitive – and to represent Australia well off the field.
“The easiest thing to do in these situations is to do nothing,” he said. “But to do nothing will give you mediocrity.”
Tough England-All Black Match
The word mediocrity is unnecessary when describing Saturday’s (Nov 16) encounter between England and the All Blacks at Twickenham.
The All Blacks made it 13 wins from 13 Tests in 2013, but not before England looked like beating the world champions for the second year in a row.
The All Blacks, who are as benign off the field as they are lethal on it, spent the week denying there were thoughts of revenge. But the pre-game haka suggested otherwise, as the chant cut through the choir of England fans singing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”.
Even the 2013 star player, Kieran Read, stood glaring at the England side after the war dance ended.
By the 16th minute, the All Blacks had turned intentions into outcomes, and led 17-3.
But, well into the second half, the injury-hit English Rose stood triumphant, as fly-half Owen Farrell converted a penalty to give England the lead 22-20.
In the end, the All Blacks won 30-22. But, the subtext is the 2015 World Cup, to be hosted by England.
While the All Blacks are the outstanding world champions, southern and northern teams are lining up as serious contenders for the cup.
Dan Carter’s 100th game ended through injury, with All Black coach Steve Hansen saying that Carter’s “ugly gait” made injury almost inevitable.
“It hasn’t stopped him from being able to run fast and do all those things,” Hansen said, “but it puts pressure on joints and ligaments.”
Reading between the lines, Hansen was saying: “You proved everybody wrong, Dan. But are you ready to listen now?”
If Carter has to re-construct his running style, he has the luxury of having two Test standard understudies in Aaron Cruden, who replaced him, and Beauden Barrett.
Cooper is Redeemed … Almost
While on fly-halves, Wallaby bad-boy Quade Cooper continues his redemption, not only off the field, but also on it.
English rugby writer Denis Walsh described Cooper as a joy to watch … in everything he did against Ireland.
Peter Lalanabaravi is a rugby writer with over 30 years experience.