Week in, week out, Australian rugby continues to act dumb and dumber. As if the never-ending Australian Rugby Union saga in being unable to decide which teams will be cut from the Super Rugby tournament is not the height of stupidity, we’ve also had to endure some of the country’s supposedly most experienced players repeatedly making dills of themselves.
You can comprehend why Australian teams can’t beat their New Zealand counterparts when witnessing such ridiculous moments as the Waratahs handing the game to the Highlanders through acts of sheer lunacy.
At halftime of the Dunedin match, there was considerable hope that exactly one year after an Australian Super Rugby side had last beaten a Kiwi opponent that the 24 New Zealand match-winning sequence was at last going to end. The Waratahs weren’t playing brilliantly, but were taking their chances, picking their moments to make penetrative midfield charges, defending reasonably enough around the rucks, thwarting several good turnover ball opportunities for the Highlanders, and giving their gigantic winger Taqele Naiyaravoro the required possession to disrupt the opposing outer defence. And so, came the rare moment of an Australian team in New Zealand leading at the break.
As usual it was just a tease. At the 46th minute mark, it all changed. Reality returned, and the Waratahs ruined their momentum by being dunderheads.
A Highlanders lineout drive was thwarted when the Waratahs backrower Ned Hanigan stole the throw at the front. Waratahs second-rower Dean Mumm and replacement prop Paddy Ryan grabbed Elliot Dixon at the ruck, lifting the Highlanders back-rower in the tackle and then dumping him to the ground.
Admittedly, it wasn’t the most frightening tackle you’ve ever seen. But it was unnecessary and reckless, especially at a time when Super Rugby referees are so finicky about any tackle that only looks half nasty. The edict has come down from above that dangerous tackling is a no-no. This has been drilled into the players. But they just keep making mindlessly high or reckless tackles.
Not for the first time in the past year, Mumm was sent to the sinbin. It was reminiscent of his citing and sin-binning last November for a lifting tackle on Ireland’s Tadhg Furlong in the Dublin Test. The Highlanders made the Waratahs immediately pay for Mumm’s indiscretion. From the penalty, the Highlanders had a lineout deep in the Waratahs quarter, which turned into a driving maul that resulted in their hooker Liam Coltman sprawling over the line.
Then five minutes later, in search of an overlap, the Highlanders went wide before a successful chip kick over the Waratahs defence exposed how slow Naiyaravoro was in turning and changing direction, allowing his opposite Tevita Li to score. Game over for the Waratahs.
Those ten minutes transformed the match. It also made you ponder whether Australian teams will ever learn. Just the week before, the Waratahs had dreadful discipline problems in the opening quarter of the match against the Rebels, with Mumm again among those penalised. In that game, Waratahs captain Michael Hooper even told the referee Angus Gardner he could comprehend why his team was being penalised.
A week on, when asked about the dumb Mumm moment, Hooper said: “Discipline killed us.” The Hooper killer stare later in the dressing room would have been priceless. The pain intensified for the Waratahs the following morning when the Brumbies consolidated top spot in the Australian conference with a conclusive win over the Jaguares.
As exasperating has been watching the Queensland Reds go absolutely nowhere in 2017. They have been the big flops of the five Australian teams. They brought in so many big guns- such as Stephen Moore, Scott Higginbotham, George Smith and Quade Cooper- and just keep shooting blanks. Their discipline is at times as poor as the Waratahs- as shown by the numerous unnecessary high tackles that has blighted their game all season and seen them constantly penalised.
In the end, the Reds most consistent entertainer has been their coach Nick Stiles. He’s taken over from Michael Cheika as the most captivating Australian coach to watch on the television screen. He’s emotional. He’s honest. He’s knockabout. He lives and feels every minute of the game.
After another meandering opening 40-minute performance against the Force in Brisbane on Friday night, Stiles said from the coach’s box: “I gave them an absolute spray at halftime. They deserved it.”
The absolute spray didn’t work. The Reds got worse.
His response. “I’m filthy mate, simple as that. We can’t sustain 80 minutes of football.”
Privately, what Styles would also be filthy about, but probably wouldn’t admit, is that he was comprehensively out-coached by his Force counterpart Dave Wessels, who had his team play a far smarter, more precise game, while he cleverly used his reserves to finish off the Reds. That just adds further to the insanity of the Australian season. A team which has all season used its noggin remains under serious threat of being chopped by an organisation that hasn’t.