The Australians yet again prove their mettle

“You can’t always get what you want,” sang the Rolling Stones many moons ago.
And by and large that is very true.

It was certainly true last Saturday, when most of the 75,000 crowd almost certainly wanted a game as close as the England-New Zealand game had been the previous week at Wembley.

Instead we had a record World Cup Final margin in front of a record World Cup Final crowd, which wasn’t what we expected and wasn’t ideally what the World Cup needed.

But the Australians gave one of the most complete Rugby League performances I’ve ever seen, and they gave the Kiwis very little chance, even very early in the game.

The crowd seemed to recognise the magnitude of the skills on display from the Aussies, and the vast majority of them stayed to watch the presentation of the trophy. It was great to see.

Although the Kiwis denied it, I suspect they played their World Cup Final the previous week, when they just managed to get past England.

I’m fairly sure that England, if they had held on the previous week, would have given the Australians a closer game.

But of course that is purely hypothetical.
I thought there were three signs very early on that this wasn’t going to be the Kiwis’ night.

To start with, when they did the Haka you could almost see the apprehension in their eyes. I didn’t think the Haka was anything like as fearsome as the one they did against England the previous week.

They seemed to know the Aussies were facing them down, and they seemed in awe of the green and gold shirts.

And then, when the game started, the Kiwis received the ball and they could hardly have been hit harder if the Australian defenders had been carrying baseball bats.

The crowd seemed to recognise the magnitude of the skills on display from the Aussies, and the vast majority of them stayed to watch the presentation of the trophy. It was great to see.

Jesse Bromwich is a fine young prop forward, but he tried to take a fairly simple pass on the fourth tackle, saw the defence out of the corner of his eye and knocked on.

From that moment the Aussies had won the psychological battle. All that remained was to score the points that would win the game.

The third nightmare for the Kiwis was the injury to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, who had come onto the field with his right leg heavily strapped. He went down in what looked like an ordinary tackle in the seventh minute, heard something snap and was immediately taken from the field.

The strapping suggested he wasn’t fully fit, and Stephen Kearney’s gamble of playing him backfired spectacularly.

The Kiwis had four forwards on the bench, so Alex Glenn came on as a substitute and had to play on the wing, making himself an easy target for Australia’s razor-sharp attack.
Kiwi coach Stephen Kearney made a curious comment after the match that is reported in our news story on page 2 of this issue.

“You don’t carry a winger on the bench because you don’t go into a game expecting to lose an outside back,” said Kearney.

But when you go into a game with an outside back as heavily strapped as Tuivasa-Sheck was, you have to have a contingency plan, and playing a backrow forward on the wing shouldn’t be one of them.

Kearney should have had Jason Nightingale on the bench, and then at least the Aussies wouldn’t have been given such an easy target.

This game also shattered a number of myths.

A lot of people talk about intensity.

But the Australians didn’t need an intense game to prepare for the World Cup Final. What they needed was intense training, which they got.

And then there is the question of NRL players.

Stephen Kearney has avoided selecting players from Super League for his Kiwi side during his tenure.

So on Saturday the Kiwis had 17 NRL players, but they weren’t able to hold a candle to the Australians.

The most poignant image of the game, at least for me, was the sight of Sonny Bill Williams offloading in the 66th minute with not a single Kiwi in support, and the ball bouncing harmlessly into the hands of an Australian player.

As Andrew Johns says, also on page 2 of this issue, we need to find a way of developing our own style of play, without relying on trying to imitate what we see in the NRL.

Of course that is easier said than done.