Rugby's Two Ronnies Re-Write The Script

In the first of a series of blogs, rugby legend Gordon Bray gives his perspective on the upcoming Wallabies v England battle.

The dogs are barking. The immigration sniffer dogs that is. Ex Wallaby coach Eddie Jones is back in town with his new toy, the England rugby team, as the Empire prepares to strike back.

England’s ignominious exit from its own World Cup has been swept aside by a Six Nations Grand Slam triumph under Jones who has vowed to “upset the applecart”  Down Under.

Predictably ‘Beaver’ Jones complained that the war officially started as soon as he stepped ashore. Border Patrol searched his bags. All part of Australia’s grand plan to undermine and destabilize. The “battle stations” cry went out early.  

Gotta love this little Aussie battler made good. The same guy who kicked a football around with the Ella brothers on a housing commission estate in La Perouse is now the highest paid rugby coach in the world.

The same guy who was sacked as Wallaby coach in 2005, then joined forces with Jake White to help South Africa win the Rugby World Cup before masterminding the greatest upset in test rugby history eight years later as coach of Japan.

In the opposite corner, meet Michael Cheika, former Randwick teammate of Jones and recently named World Coach of the Year after just eleven months at the helm of  the Wallabies. 

Coach Class

Yes Jones and Cheika are opposing coaches but make no mistake, they sing from the same page in terms of philosophy, innovation, competitive edge and player psychology. 

The fun part is they are also entertaining, larger than life personalities. When it comes to communicating their message to the media and public at large, the Jones/Cheika show is right up there with Ronnie Corbett and Ronnie Barker. 

“I’m too old for this. I should be on a beach in Barbados,” quipped Jones after beating South Africa at the Brighton Community Centre last September.

Cheika is more the Ronnie Barker anti-establishment man. When asked about the starting team by the media last week, he responded. “I’m not going to tell you. You always guess the team anyway whether I say it or not. That’s half the fun of journalism isn’t it?” 

Belters v Boppers

Coaches do not take the field but for a scenario where the mind games and intellectual nous of each man has a big bearing on the outcome, this intriguing three test series is a likely benchmark.

Eddie Jones will tell his big forwards to belt the Wallabies up front. Give them a hiding. But he will also arm them with a meticulous game plan and a large dose of self belief. A state of mind cultivated by a coach who understands his players’ psyche.

Wallaby coach Cheika has also upped the physicality meter. He wants his big boppers and his backline to hit hard and hurt. Argentina lost two of their front line attackers in the RWC Semi Final due to Australia’s rugged aggression in contact.

Both coaches are disciples of the running game. An approach geared to let the ball do the work at high intensity with speed and deception. However on that score, Australia could have the edge on home turf.

At this stage of their development under Jones, England will place heavy emphasis on the set pieces to establish a platform to get in behind the Wallaby defence. In 130kg no.8 Billy Vunipola they have a human bazooka to create havoc from quick scrum ball.

England’s scrum wasn’t dominant in Six Nations but it was efficient and effective and like Australia, has progressed in confidence levels.  

The scrum is Eddie’s backyard so continued improvement is guaranteed. Remember Japan had a 100% success rate at scrum time in Rugby World Cup. None of the big name teams could match that. Their quick first channel ball was a work of rugby art.

Expect also a clear strategy designed to nullify the ‘Pooper’ effect of Australia’s twin backrow jackals David Pocock and Michael Hooper. For starters, massive England flanker James Haskell will have both men in his clean-out sights at the breakdown. 

Lethal Weapons

Chatting to the great Mark Ella, he feels Australia will be well served to go wide in attack. Fly half Bernard Foley came of age at the Rugby World Cup and relished the presence of Matt Giteau who is expected back later for the Rugby Championship.

Significantly, Israel Folau is in peak form after injuring his ankle against England at the Cup. Izzy was a shadow of his best after that mishap but re-emphasized his breathtaking skills in the recent win over the Chiefs. 

England too have lethal weapons in their back three. Left wing Anthony Watson made more clean line breaks than any other player in last year’s Rugby World Cup.
Not bad considering England missed the quarters.

Rugby's Two Ronnies

So it is over to Rugby’s ‘Two Ronnies’ who have the floor for the next three weeks. Eddie Jones says he is not running a kindergarten class. “It is not up to me to get their attention. They need to stand up and get mine.” 

Michael Cheika will blood new faces in his 23 strong match day squad. “I’m interested in what people are going to do. I’m open minded on selection. People who put their hand up at training get my attention.”

The Wallabies knocked England out of the Rugby World Cup after just three pool games last year.  The All Blacks then knocked Australia out in the Cup Final. Being a coach at this level is no laughing matter. But making people smile definitely helps. 

Join Gordon Bray, Matt Burke, Nathan Sharpe and hosts Matt White and Scott McKinnon for the First Test at Suncorp LIVE Saturday 7.30 on TEN and tenplay.