The 1932-33 Bodyline series still ranks as the most significant event in cricket history. England captain Douglas Jardine’s strategy to attack and intimidate Australia’s batsmen made him public enemy number one. For good measure he also described us as “uneducated and an unruly mob.”
So when one of our own adopts that Bodyline theory with a similar series outcome, how on earth can we complain? England’s ‘convict’ coach Eddie Jones cleverly planted initial seeds of doubt with his positive spiel. “We are here to play Bodyline rugby and win three nil.”
Jones has backed up the rhetoric with chilling results. The England forwards have subtly out-muscled and even out-finessed their opposites. To the point that Michael Cheika is now putting on a different face to turn things around and quash England’s “whitewash” talk.
When asked about being verbally bullied by Eddie Jones, (an observation cast by All Blacks coach Steve Hansen) he replied, “It’s easy to kick someone when they are down.” Bravo! Them’s fighting words. Cheik and his Wallabies are wounded but the mindset has shifted to ‘enough is enough.’
Jones has made all the off-field running in this epic series and is a clear points leader in the coaching stakes. But as Cheika pointed out, “I believe more in my lads now than I did before. When things go wrong you don’t go and hide in a corner. This third game is worth everything.”
England’s Mighty Defence
The Wallabies had their noses rubbed into the microscopic worm infested AAMI Park surface. They had enough possession to win three test matches but could not find a way through or over England’s ‘White Cliffs of Dover’.
Eddie called it “Rope a dope”. Kick the ball into their half and then let them run it back ad nauseam until they are forced into a mistake. In contrast, England fly-half George Ford passed the ball just once in the entire game to his inside-centre Owen Farrell.
Some would call it blind faith. Australia exhausted all its available running options and came up short. Seemingly bereft of ideas by the dying stages. Although as TEN commentators Matthew Burke and Nathan Sharpe kept harping in the call, what about the more direct route up the middle?
Ford produced a master class in tactical kicking, admirably supported in that specialist skill by half Ben Youngs. High attacking kicks were always supported with perfectly timed arrivals by outside backs. Cross-field stabs exposed Australia out wide, others peeled off large slices of territory.
Australia’s Next Smart Move
Australia’s game is evolving and they will keep the faith in Sydney this weekend. The challenge is to be smarter about unsettling England’s immovable defensive line. This Wallaby team has the ability through 1 to 23 to stand closer, commit defenders and pass faster through the hands to create space.
They also have the ability to deceive by subtle changes of direction to unbalance England players and put them in two minds. As the great David Campese told me before the game, “If it’s not working change things up. Put a grubber in behind or a kick over the top. Keep them guessing.”
Battle Of The Coaches
Meanwhile Eddie continues to get under our skin. He’s even called in rugby league immortal Andrew Johns to help plot our downfall in game three. No doubt he’ll be giving the England backs his unique dimension of inventive and unpredictable tactical kicking.
Michael Cheika will definitely think outside the square this week. But he will demand more clinical execution when tries are there for the taking. Reckon he will also devise further ways to take advantage of Israel Folau’s freakish aerial skills.
One suspects Cheik will also contact his old mate Mark Ella. Twin brother Glen is Eddie’s assistant, so imagine what dynamic Mark could add to the Wallaby fine tuning. I know what Mark would tell Cheika. “Mate if I had that much ball we would have won by a hundred points!”
All credit to ‘Steady Eddie’. England are now playing with an All Blacks mindset. No.8 Bill Vunipola was asked straight after the game about his reaction to the performance and he promptly said, “The job’s not done. We want to win three nil.”
The outcome of this June series has been as much cerebral mind game as practical application. Time now for we unruly Aussies to make Mr Jardine eat his words. Reaffirm our educated rugby DNA and celebrated pedigree. And let’s not forget we did win a test match in that Bodyline series.
Gordon Bray will be joined by experts Matt Burke and Nathan Sharpe and hosts Matt White and Scott Mackinnon for Saturday’s live telecast on TEN and tenplay from 7.30pm ET.