Former All Black Daryl Gibson, now the Waratahs coach, has warned Australian rugby not to panic after its weekend of shame when their Super Rugby sides were hammered by their Kiwi rivals.
It was a round from the depths of hell for Australian rugby; winless for the first time in over a decade, embarrassed on the scoreboard and shamed by the latest chapter of a season-long dominance by Kiwi teams.
“How quickly we forget that last year the Brumbies and the Waratahs were both semi-finalists,” Gibson said.
It was very hard to remember sunnier days after the darkest weekend in Australia’s Super Rugby history, with all sides beaten in a round for the first time since 2005 and a majority of teams thrashed by Kiwi rivals.
The unhappy Rebels wilted in a record 85-26 loss to the Crusaders, the Reds were pumped 50-5 by the Chiefs and leading Aussie side, the Brumbies, were downed 40-15 by the lowest-ranked team in New Zealand, the Blues. The Waratahs and Force fought harder but also lost to the Hurricanes and Stormers.
The Aussie teams conceded 225 points and 33 tries in total but amazingly it wasn’t definitively the worst weekend on record, as far as points go. The weekend of NSW’s 96-19 loss in Christchurch in 2002 saw the then-three Aussie sides conceded an average of over 50 points each.
But the Brumbies actually won their game in that round, and given NSW had a big win on the weekend Queensland lost 92-3 in 2007, the “sorry sixteenth” round of 2016 takes the rightful place at the bottom of the barrel.
What confirms it is that the trans-Tasman results were only the latest chapter in a sorry season of Kiwi dominance. Australia has only won three of 24 games this year, and even with a round left, that trumps the previous worst of 6/20 in 2007.
But Gibson, who scored a try for the Crusaders in their 96-19 win over the Tahs in 2002, believes the weekend’s results does not mean Australian rugby is circling the drain.
“You have a number of teams at the wrong end of the table, coming up against the best teams,” Gibson said.
“You look at any competition, those blows outs are going to happen. It is no different at the moment, but it is not to say it is permanent and that it can’t change.”
Gibson said the success of Kiwi teams against Australian teams simply shows the style they’re using this year is highly effective.
“At the moment New Zealand are playing with a game style that is troubling Australia defences,” Gibson said.
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“They are playing with a lot more unstructured, tackle-offload, continuity type game and their ability to keep the ball alive is certainly proving to be a real dividend for the New Zealand teams. They’re doing it well.
”If you look back to last year, we had two teams in the semi-finals. One with a home semi-final and one away. It is all very cyclical. The last few years Australia and New Zealand have been very close, so it will be swing.”
Australians teams won 7/22 against the Kiwis in 2015 and 11/22 in 2014.
And while Gibson’s optimism may have merit in terms of future NSW and Brumbies seasons, the weekend’s results are undoubtedly still a sickly canary in the Australian Rugby Union’s coal mine.
To dismiss the Rebels’ result as being injury-affected, or brush over the Force’s zero wins over New Zealand teams in over two years, or miss Queensland winning just two trans-Tasman games since 2013, would be to wilfully ignore the paper-thin depth of talent in the country – and what must be done to strengthen it.
If there is some solace to be found it is that the Kiwi teams have been almost equally dominant against all nations in Super Rugby this year.
South Africans have only won four of 15 games, and overall, the New Zealand franchises have played 44 games and only lost seven.
Is it as simple as can’t beat them, copy them? Gibson believes not.
“I think we have to look at our own strengths,” he said.
“We can’t afford to copying game styles because at the moment they’re working. We have said it for a long time: different styles have their time and if you get good at them, you can win rugby games. It is not different at the moment, that style is pretty dominant.”
But the bold Kiwi style – pressure mistakes through defence and attack with abandon thereafter – is high risk, Gibson contends. But with risk comes opportunity to turn the tables and the Waratahs hope to do that against a Blues team with nothing to play for on Friday.
“In that lies an opportunity, if you set it up right,” he said.
“You can potentially get some opportunity off forcing errors and mistakes. But playing with that amount of risk also has its fruits. Certainly right now, the scoreboard is not lying.”
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