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Saint-Etienne: When former NRL hard man and new Wallabies assistant coach Jason Ryles says with absolute conviction that Australia can turn things around after five straight losses heading into this month’s Rugby World Cup, he is speaking from experience.
Ryles, who answered an SOS call from Eddie Jones last month to help with Australia’s attack at the World Cup, casts his mind back to 2012 during his time as a prop at the Melbourne Storm.
Albeit in a different code, Ryles is a firm believer that one game is all it takes to be the circuit-breaker for a run of consecutive losses.
After winning their first nine games of the 2012 NRL season, the Storm capitulated in the third quarter of their regular season, losing five matches in a row to the Bulldogs (20-4), Raiders (40-12), Cowboys (20-16), last-placed Eels (16-10) and Dragons (26-18).
Although Billy Slater was sidelined with a knee injury, the Storm were in the midst of a post-State of Origin slump. But a resounding 46-6 win over Penrith at AAMI Park was the catalyst for Craig Bellamy’s side to revitalise their season.
The Storm couldn’t put a foot wrong as they chalked up eight straight victories to take out the premiership with a 14-4 grand final victory over the Bulldogs.
Incoming Melbourne Storm coach Jason Ryles is in camp with the Wallabies as the team’s attack coach. Credit: Getty
While the Wallabies can’t claim to be as successful as the Storm, seven straight wins would hand them the Webb Ellis Cup. It is an unlikely scenario but momentum is a funny thing, according to Ryles.
“We were 0-5 and it was basically one game … it broke that drought of not winning,” Ryles told reporters in France ahead of Australia’s first match against Georgia on Saturday (Sunday 2am AEST).
“Sometimes it takes that game to get that confidence back and get a bit more belief in the group. Then before you know it, you turn one into two into three … all of a sudden, you have turned that corner. It’s one of those things where it only takes one game.
“Eddie is very experienced. He’s done really well in terms of keeping the environment really positive. All the players are really hungry.”
Craig Bellamy and Cam Smith after the Melbourne Storm’s premiership in 2012. Credit: Jason South
By comparison, the reigning World Cup champions, South Africa, did not lose any of their five matches before the 2019 tournament (four wins, one draw).
The bookies have Australia as $13 outsiders to win their first World Cup since 1999. The Wallabies fell to England 40-16 in a quarter-final at the 2019 edition.
Australia face Georgia in Paris this weekend, before pool matches against Fiji, Wales and Portugal. A potential quarter-final looms against either England or Argentina, depending on group standings.
Despite losses to South Africa, Argentina, New Zealand and France in a two-month block, hooker Dave Porecki insists that results don’t match the mood in camp.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s an environment that is 0-5 right now,” Porecki said. “I genuinely feel like we’re moving in the right direction. It doesn’t feel like a losing culture or a losing environment. It feels like a winning one. The last thing [that matters] … will be the scoresheet.”
Mark Nawaqanitawase, Max Jorgensen, Samu Kerevi and Ben Donaldson during a Wallabies gym session. Credit: Getty
Ryles, who will join Bellamy’s coaching staff at the Storm in November, is the first to admit he is not making wholesale changes to Australia’s attack so late in the World Cup cycle.
“I was actually renovating my house and painting … doing real work when I got the phone call,” Ryles said. “No better way to spend the last two months of my little break than with these guys in France, chasing a World Cup.
“[Eddie] takes the lead and then I basically do a lot of the legwork for him. It is about as simple as that. The systems are in place and now it’s just about refining and evolving and making sure that we’re improving every session.
“It’s a Wallabies style. What I’ve picked up really quickly is that it’s less structured, it’s more about playing to the players’ strengths and then building the game plan in and around that.”
Watch all the action from Rugby World Cup 2023 on the Home of Rugby, Stan Sport. Every match ad-free, live and on demand in 4K UHD from September 9.
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