'Serious problems': Ex-All Blacks rip into Wallabies performance
Former All Blacks greats Sir John Kirwan and Mils Muliaina have blasted the performance of the Wallabies after their 38-21 defeat to the All Blacks in Perth last weekend.
The result ensured the All Blacks completed a Bledisloe Cup clean sweep of their Australian counterparts to move up to the top of the Rugby Championship table.
The Wallabies, meanwhile, have plummeted to the bottom of the competition standings, and Muliaina told The Breakdown that Australia head coach Dave Rennie has plenty of work to do in order to bounce back from three successive losses.
“For a team like that that’s so inexperienced, it’s really difficult to come back,” the former 100-test utility back said.
“They’ve almost lost the mental game as well. For Dave Rennie, this is probably a huge step backwards. Lots of talk about the physicality and how that was going to play out, the All Blacks definitely won that, and they won it without the ball in hand.”
Muliaina was full of praise for the All Blacks forwards as he made particular note of Akira Ioane’s man-of-the-match performance, which he said was made possibly by the contribution of Scott Barrett in the tight five.
He added that combinations like those in the forward pack, as well as those in the backline such as in the midfield between David Havili and Anton Lienert-Brown, will have All Blacks boss Ian Foster “licking his lips” ahead of this week’s clash against Los Pumas.
As for the Wallabies, though, Muliaina said some tough questions will need to be asked of themselves before they take on the world champion Springboks on the Gold Coast this Sunday.
“I think, for the Wallabies, there’ll be some soul-searching because their captain [Michael Hooper] was under the pump with injury worries there in terms of his cut,” Muliaina said.
“Where do they go to now? They lack a lot of leadership at the moment, so it’s a massive ask now for Dave Rennie to be able to get his side back to that pre-Bledisloe campaign.”
Muliaina’s sentiments were supported by Kirwan, who said the continual selection of young first-five Noah Lolesio, who struggled to impress from the No 10 jersey in all three recent tests against the All Blacks, needs to be reviewed.
“Lolesio, I think maybe Dave Rennie’s got to have a look at him and say, ‘Look, if he’s the future, maybe we need to bring him off the bench with 20 minutes to go’,” Kirwan, the 1987 World Cup-winning All Blacks wing, said.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 7, 2021
“He misses that kick, he does some stuff that I really thought [was] just not really handling the pressure and putting the All Blacks under pressure when they need to.”
Kirwan doubled down on his claims by saying that Rennie may need to adopt a different game plan that involves more experienced playmakers and inside backs in future tests.
“All Blacks three steps forward, Australia three steps back. If you’re Dave Rennie, you’ve got some serious problems. They never give up, they show incredible courage, but they were never in that game, I didn’t think,” Kirwan told The Breakdown.
“I was sitting there, and I was never really worried that it was close. I think he’s got some serious problems at his decision-making at 10. I don’t think that the young fellas are ready to take control of the football team.
“I think, when you listen to Dave Rennie talk, is he trying to be too much like a New Zealand side? You talk about physicality, I’d never talk about physicality if I was playing the All Blacks, ever. I would keep that quiet.
“Maybe he needs to look at their style of rugby and come up with a different game plan, because, currently, this game plan is not working. They’ve been beaten pretty well in three test matches.”
Kirwan’s comments, which were backed by Black Ferns midfielder Chelsea Alley, came after Rennie kept Lolesio at No 10 despite heavy speculation that veteran playmaker Quade Cooper would make his first test appearance in four years against the All Blacks.
The 33-year-old played the last of his 70 tests for the Wallabies against Italy in 2017, but was considered a possibility to face his nation of birth at Optus Stadium after linking up with the Australian squad following an injury to James O’Connor.
The selection of Cooper never came to fruition, though, and his time in Rennie’s squad remains unclear given O’Connor is set to return to the Wallabies camp as he continues to recover from his lengthy groin injury.
Thrusting O’Connor, an experienced operator himself with 55 tests to his name, back into the mix could go some way to alleviating Australia’s woes as he would likely form a powerhouse five-eighths pairing with recent returnee Samu Kerevi.
“It hasn’t helped him that the nation was obsessed with finding the next Jerome Kaino.”
– Campbell Burnes on Ioane’s challenge of winning over All Blacks supporters https://t.co/lTYtpuXmJc
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 7, 2021
Kerevi is one of two players in Rennie’s squad, alongside the uncapped Duncan Paia’aua, who have been re-called from overseas despite not meeting the Giteau Law criteria of at least 60 test caps and seven years’ worth of professional rugby in Australia.
The relaxation of the law by Rugby Australia was designed to help make the Wallabies more competitive, but their recent results against the All Blacks have suggested otherwise, leaving Muliaina to offer some selection advice to Rennie.
“I think, what the Wallabies are doing at the moment, they’re a little bit unsure. As soon as they get the ball and there’s a bit of space there, it just seems a little bit frantic and panicked,” he said.
“They throw those long passes where they think, ‘Oh no, there’s an opportunity there, we can score from there’, when it’s perhaps not on. That’s inexperience, so you want to give someone a go in at 10 now.
“Lolesio’s the future, he’s had a shot, but try and ease him back into that, ease him back into the reins until he gets a bit of confidence back.
“When they start playing the Springboks and then the Argentinians, it’s perhaps a way for Dave Rennie to think about the big picture.
“The result is not ideal, they won’t be liking it at all, but they’re starting to change things, and now you’re seeing the reason why they’ve changed that Giteau Law, to be able to strengthen this Wallabies side up, but it’s going to take some time and they’ve got to be patient with it.”
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