Oval Talk

Character key for young Wallabies

Oval Talk

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As mid-term reports go, Oval Talk has seen better - C-plus: ok but room for improvement.

Saturday's 20-10 loss to the All Blacks in Christchurch, Australia's third Tri-Nations fixture of six, was the Wallabies ninth successive defeat to their cross-Tasman rivals.

New Zealand retained the Bledisloe Cup for the eighth year running and now, barring the biggest turnaround in rugby history, have the Tri-Nations trophy within their grasp.

And the World Cup is within the All Blacks' sights - if they can defeat the mental block that weighs so heavily over the sport's eternal underachievers.

But what about the Wallabies? This is, after all, OT's assessment of Robbie Deans and his troops.

The weekend made for a sour homecoming for Kiwi Deans, capped as an All Black on five occasions, who made his name as a coach with the Canterbury Crusaders.

The All Blacks could have brought the Tri-Nations to a premature close with a five-point victory at the AMI Stadium but a stout Wallabies performance ensured the hosts managed only two tries.

But credit where credit's due - even if it ended in defeat, Deans resurrected his sorry camp to avoid a second humiliation of the series, after the 49-28 humbling Australia received in Melbourne.

OT was typically honest in its assessment of that ill-disciplined defeat but was relieved to see the Wallabies fired up from the off in a frantic start in Christchurch.

Australia missed the influence of Quade Cooper yet again - but the fly-half, one of few players capable of penetrating the All Blacks line, only has himself to blame after being slapped with a two-match ban for upending South Africa's fly-half Morne Steyn during Australia's 30-13 win.

The 22-year-old's return to the 15 will bolster the Wallabies' attacking options, but Cooper's flair must be supported by the forwards who, despite controlling large spells of possession, failed to crack the All Blacks defence.

Time with the ball needs to be translated into try-scoring opportunities. Limiting the All Blacks in attack is one thing, putting enough points on the board to win is another prospect altogether.

But the All Blacks defence, forced to make 110 tackles (of which only five were missed), is resolute to say the least. Graham Henry's side are tough yet fluent - a potent mix.

Crucially, however, the All Blacks showed grit, determination and character to win a game which evolved from a start akin to a rugby league match into a bruising encounter.

And character is what Australia need most as they wind down for a three week break before taking on the Springboks in back-to-back fixtures in South Africa and returning home to complete their Tri-Nations campaign against New Zealand in Sydney on September 11.

The Wallabies are a young side and heavy defeats are a harsh lesson for those taking their first tentative steps in international rugby. 

But basic errors must be ruled out and heads held high if they are to fight on against the best out there. 

OT is a firm believer in the old adage that you learn as much from your defeats as your victories.

And that's the lesson Australia's charges must take on board going into the second half of their Tri-Nations series.

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