17 Nov

Whatever happened
by Rob Wallace
17 Nov 2003

I’m sorry but you won’t convince me this is a great Australian team, however they certainly strangled the All Blacks at the weekend. While Australia never looked like creating anything, this was finals footy, and all about accuracy, pressure and defence, and wow, did the Aussies deliver.

The Australians were better prepared and better coached, and used a sounder gameplan than Mitchell’s All Blacks. Someone needs to tell the All Blacks to walk before they run, and they needed to try to dominate possession and set pieces before going wide. In the past, World Cup playoff games have frequently been tight, and kicks matter. History will show the All Blacks were overconfident about their running game, and lacked a quality kicker. They made too many mistakes, and were never able to pressure Australia. Without a forward platform they could not develop any continuity, and they never had enough possession to counter attack.

Equally worrying was the lack of leadership on the field, and the inability to change tactics. This game was lost due to poor thinking and planning by the coaching staff, and poor execution on the field by the players. During their preparation they had not been exposed to pressure like this before, and when faced with it they folded.

The player selection Mitchell has used is also interesting. Most coaches would keep players like Oliver, Mehrtens, Randell, Maxwell and Cullen in the wider squad, if only for the leadership and experience factors they could offer. Not Mitchell. He seems to have placed more value on having a good team ethic, and players who could follow his lead. He has stuck with same group of players throughout the season, based entirely on S12 form. The only player dropped, Oliver, seemed to be on the basis of personality, rather than performance. Mitchell kept 2 players in the squad, Sooialo and Nonu, despite seeming to lack confidence in their ability to perform at the highest level, presumably to retain team spirit. I can’t help but think it would have been nice to have Mehrtens sitting on the bench to provide an alternative and keep teams guessing how we would play.

I don’t like blaming the coach for losses, but this loss looks like a system failure rather than individual player’s fault – the whole team was so awful. I have problems with the players selected (or not selected), the preparation for this campaign, the chosen game plan, and the execution of it. There was no leadership, no reorganisation under pressure and no visible change at halftime. Apart from the execution, all of the remaining problems are attributable to Mitchell and his management team. Add in the fact they have alienated almost everyone and I find it hard to see how Mitchell can continue as coach without some significant changes.

Mitchell stated it was his team, and he’d do it his way. If you take that attitude you get both the plaudits and also the blame if you fail.

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