After an ordinary start to the 2011 international season against Samoa, the Wallabies bounced back with an improved performance against the Springboks in TN1 on the weekend.
There’s no doubt the introduction of some of the players rested for the game against Samoa made a big difference but the match also offered a chance for some of the players from that game against Samoa to show they’ve got more to offer the Wallabies than they managed the week before.
Will Genia, Quade Cooper, Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor were the high profile stars who grabbed much of the attention in the match with their dazzling attack. Digby Ioane didn’t have his most brilliant game in attack but we all know what he’s capable of, and if the five amigos click on the same day the scoreboard attendant will be busier than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
It took just ten minutes for the Wallabies to show us what might be possible and score their first two tries, with the five amigos combining brilliantly. In that time the Springboks started five possessions — the first two ended with a high kick to the mid-field, two ended with a dropped ball and one in a turnover at the breakdown. The Boks showed little imagination in attack but that was partly due to the pressure exerted by the Wallabies all over the field. It was 23 minutes before the Wallabies missed their first tackle and they missed just seven in the entire first half.
Of course the five amigos can’t show us their tricks unless the forwards set a platform by winning the physical battle in the tackle and at the breakdown. Last week against Samoa they did neither and then it really didn’t matter who was playing behind a badly beaten pack. This week the forwards outpointed the Springboks in the set pieces and won the battle at the breakdown. This gave Will Genia quick ball and he used it to continue his sublime 2011 form.
This year one of the new statistics we’ll be showing you is Workrate — involvements (carries, tackles and breakdown involvements) compared to minutes played — to give you an idea of who’s doing the work, particularly in the forwards. While the measurement doesn’t recognise work done off the ball or measure the quality of the involvements, it’s a useful guide to who’s setting that all-important platform.
The starting front row put their hands up after all having a quiet performance against Samoa. Sekope Kepu and Ben Alexander did a lot of work at the breakdown and Alexander was near the top of the tackle count with 16. When I watched the game live I thought Stephen Moore had a good game and watching it again I haven’t changed my opinion. However, with 8 carries, 8 tackles and 10 involvements in the breakdown in his 60 minutes of game time, he needs to lift his Workrate a little. His figure of 0.43 is a little behind Kepu’s at 0.48, with both well short of Ben Alexander at 0.63. It was pleasing to see such a good performance from Alexander as I’d started to wonder whether he could regain his best form.
The Reds lock combination of Rob Simmons and James Horwill were really good. They did plenty of work, with Horwill’s Workrate of 0.70 second only to David Pocock (0.78) from the starting pack. Nathan Sharpe kept up that trend when he came on for Horwill with a Workrate of 0.71 in his 24 minutes. It should be no surprise that with the locks getting so involved, the Wallabies controlled the Springbok forwards so well.
Having Pocock in the pack this week made a significant difference. He is consistently good and this match was no exception. Rocky Elsom looks like he’s starting to get some form back as his match fitness improves, but Ben McCalman had a quiet game with a Workrate of only 0.46. If the Wallabies are to progress to the business end of the World Cup later this year we need our number eight doing a lot more work. In particular, we need more than just 4 carries from a player in such a key ball-carrying position.
Of the other replacement forwards, Matt Hodgson had a Workrate of 1.00 with 15 involvements in his 15 minutes on the field and we can ignore Scott Higginbotham’s 0.46 as he spent most of his on-field time on the wing.
Click on the icon in the column headings to sort the data in the tables.
|Total Tackles Made
|Total Breakdown Involvements
After last week’s performance against Samoa I was a little concerned with the performances of centres Pat McCabe and Adam Ashley-Cooper . While McCabe went about his work in a tradesman-like manner against Samoa I was concerned that he may be a little one-dimensional in attack, and AAC looked to be still struggling to find form after an ordinary season with the Brumbies. This week they looked a lot better in attack and their defence was robust. Some of their improved performance in attack resulted just from playing outside Quade Cooper, but they also looked a lot more comfortable. There are definitely the makings of a good mid-field there outside Cooper.
Looking at some other key statistics:
- The Wallabies won 91% of their own lineouts whereas the Springboks only managed 79%.
- The Wallabies won 83% of their own scrums while restricting the Springboks to 80%.
- Turnovers achieved at the breakdown were 5 for the Wallabies and 2 for the Springboks.
- The Wallabies missed 24 tackles for the match, with 17 of those in the second half when some of the intensity went out of their game.
- This produced an 88% tackle completion rate for the match.
- I rated 15% of the Wallabies tackles as being dominant. I’m sure the coaches will be aiming to lift that to above 20% as the season progresses, with a target of up to 25%.
- James O’Connor’s 86% goal-kicking success rate was a great start to the international season.
One area I’m sure Robbie Deans wouldn’t be happy about is the Wallabies’ failure to go on with the job in this game. There was a noticeable drop-off in intensity once they’d established a 39–6 lead and even though some of that relates to the use of replacements, we actually need the fresh replacements to be adding something when they come on, not taking it away. That’s one area where the Reds were really good in 2011 and is something the Wallabies will need to develop as the season progresses.
The other area I’m sure Robbie Deans wasn’t happy about is the related issue of wasted attacking opportunities. The Wallabies lost possession 20 times during the match — that’s 36 per cent of the times they started a possession sequence. The concern with those possession losses was that many they came when the Wallabies were in good position to score and resulted from pushed passes, when the better option would have been to retain the ball, recycle it, and seek another scoring opportunity on subsequent phases. These wasted opportunities have nothing to do with a lack of skill and I wouldn’t want to see a conservative wet blanket applied to the Wallabies attack to reduce errors, but there could be a better balance with a little more patience shown.
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