Australia have been told they need to be consistent and be better at closing out games when they have put themselves in a winning position. And assistant coaches Richard Graham and Jim Williams stressed the need for taking the right options during games as Australia prepare for their penultimate Tri Nations match of the season, against South Africa in Bloemfontein, on Saturday after a disappointing loss to the Springboks last week.
Robbie Deans's side twice threw away a 14-point lead in Pretoria last Saturday before succumbing 44-31 after a pulsating encounter to give their opponents their first win of the competition. It left the Australians bottom of the Tri Nations table, and with a game against already crowned champions New Zealand in Sydney still to come, the result on Saturday is likely to decide who will be awarded the wooden spoon in 2010.
"The thing with any performance is to be consistent over a period of time," Graham, the skills coach, said. "It's a young group and the more times we are put in situations like we were at the weekend then I think you'll see us consistently becoming better in those aspects." The Australians have injury concerns over their lock forwards Nathan Sharpe (ankle) and Scott Higginbotham (back) as they prepare fo the clash.
Sharpe faces a race against time to be fit for Saturday's match, while Higginbotham, a late withdrawal for the Loftus Versfeld Test after being injured in the warm-up, looks almost certain to miss out again as he struggles to recover. Williams, the forwards coach, echoed the sentiments of Graham, saying: "I suppose it's not down to one thing, it's the ability to play well on the day. "It's about getting consistency. We've worked hard on preparation this week to ensure we address problems from last weekend and are nice and positive for this Saturday."
Deans had spoken about the way the team capitulated at set-pieces in the Pretoria Test as the South Africans were able to find gaps in their backline, and Williams said it was an area they would work on during the build-up. He added: "If you break it down, there were four line-outs lost and it came down to technique with throwing a couple of times and the options that we took inside their 22. "It's just a matter of taking the right options and making sure we stick to our plan."
Meanwhile, Adam Ashley-Cooper, the utility back, insists there were plenty of positives to take from their latest defeat, which came despite them running in four first-half tries. It was a third loss in four games during this year's competition for the Wallabies, but the CA Brumbies player said: "There is a good belief amongst the squad because we know we're heading in the right direction. "We feel that we are improving in areas each game.
"We played the two best teams in the world over the last couple of weeks and obviously have come up just that part short, but it's not like we're losing to poor opposition. "These guys are the best in the world and we're competing with these guys and just falling short so there's certainly a lot to take out of it and a lot to look forward to." * Associated Press