Queensland Reds captain Scott Higginbotham on what it will take for Australian teams to beat Kiwi sides
REDS skipper Scott Higginbotham has identified the experience void in Australian rugby as the gulf that must be closed to start regularly beating Kiwi teams again.
The 126-game Super Rugby veteran can’t believe the Aussie inability to finish off New Zealand sides in Super Rugby has grown into such an ugly hoodoo in two years.
No.8 Higginbotham will lead his Queensland youngsters against the hot Hurricanes in Wellington on Friday night with the ledger at 39 straight trans-Tasman losses.
“It’s hard for me to hear that stat and completely believe it,” Higginbotham said.
“In 2015 I was in a Rebels team that beat three of the four Kiwi sides we played.
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“The Kiwis are good but they are definitely beatable if you front up rather than stand back and watch them play.”
Flanker Scott Fardy winning a European Cup with Leinster and Leicester centre Matt Toomua being voted into the English Premiership Team of the Year highlights the drain on Australia’s thin playing depth.
Equally, Michael Cheika’s call that Quade Cooper’s Wallabies career is dead unless he leaves Brisbane club rugby for the higher pace of an interstate Super Rugby club is overdue sanity.
The experience void feeds the results imbalance with too many youngsters not yet crafty enough to push the limits at the breakdown, run calculated interference or ride out momentum shifts in games.
“It has to do with the playing age in Australian teams, knowing exactly where you can cut corners and seeing exactly what you can get away with,” Higginbotham said.
“There are a lot of guys in Australia who have only recently become professional players out of school or have played only a handful of games at this level.”
Higginbotham disagreed with the contention of Wallabies coach Cheika that Aussie sides may be perceived as a “soft touch” by Kiwi teams.
“I don’t think so … what we need to do is play better footy and put better performances on the park consistently,” Higginbotham said.
“I don’t think we have to be tougher. I know blokes in our teams are tough and aggressive and can match it with the Kiwi guys.
“Having belief you can win has a lot to do with it.
“It’s easy when you are in front to push the boundaries a bit more, like pushing a pass that could be 50-50 for a try, but you see Kiwi sides willing to push even when behind.”
Higginbotham said the Reds, with nine players at 22 or younger, were fired up after the shabby 63-28 collapse against the Sunwolves in Tokyo.
“If you are going to beat a top team like the Lions and then lose to lower-table teams you’ve got to look at where you are mentally and maturity-wise,” Higginbotham said.
“We have to be right on our game against the Hurricanes.”
Higginbotham’s return and Duncan Paia’aua’s selection in the centres for Chris Feauai-Sautia (concussion) are assets but losing prop pillar James Slipper for personal reasons is a blow.
Halfback Ben Lucas is lucky to retain his spot and must sharpen his service after a poor outing in Tokyo when he also had two kicks charged down in the opening 45 seconds.
HURRICANES v REDS
Westpac Stadium, Wellington, 5.35pm Friday
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (NZ)
TV: Fox Sports (live)
HURRICANES: Jordie Barrett, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Matt Proctor, Peter Umaga- Jensen, Ben Lam, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara (c), Blade Thomson, Ardie Savea, Reed Prinsep, Sam Lousi, Michael Fatialofa, Jeff Toomaga-Allen, Ricky Riccitelli, Toby Smith. Reserves: James O’Reilly, Chris Eves, Ben May, Vaea Fifita, Brad Shields, Jamie Booth, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Julian Savea.
REDS: Hamish Stewart, Filipo Daugunu, Samu Kerevi, Duncan Paia’aua, Jordan Petaia, Jono Lance, Ben Lucas, Scott Higginbotham (c), George Smith, Angus Scott-Young, Kane Douglas, Izack Rodda, Taniela Tupou, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, JP Smith. Reserves: Andrew Ready, Sef Fa’agase, Ruan Smith, Harry Hockings, Liam Wright, Moses Sorovi, Izaia Perese, Aidan Toua.
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