What should we make of the Wallabies’ performance in last week’s game against the Springboks?
Did they play well enough to have the All Blacks worried about their next encounter with the Wallabies? No!
Did they play better than in their game against the All Blacks at Eden Park two weeks ago? Yes!
How much of that improvement related to the standard of the opposition? I’d say a fair bit! There’s still a lot of improvement left in this Wallabies team.
There were a number of positives from the performance:
- The Wallabies toughed it out against a Springbok side that performed better than I expected given the lack of playing time for most of their players.
- The Wallabies scrum was really good in comparison to what we’ve seen over the last two years, even before John Smit moved to tighthead for the Boks and made us look even better.
- An improvement in the Wallabies defence.
- Signs that James O’Connor is getting control of his goal-kicking again.
The only real negative was the Wallabies’ inability to maintain possession and put points on the Springboks despite looking the better side for most of the match. This was a result of far too many basic execution errors when in good position to convert pressure into points.
The Wallabies gave up possession 11 times (21% of the time they started possession) through handling errors. All of those errors occurred in the Springboks’ half and some were embarrassing for professional rugby players. In three games in the Tri Nations this year that’s 46 times the Wallabies have lost possession through handling errors (28% of the times they’ve started possession) so this is not an isolated issue. Whilst you’re never going to get a near-perfect handling performance — and it’s true that unless you’re making some mistakes in attack, you’re not being adventurous enough — we’re about to enter a World Cup where these sorts of basic execution errors will lose you games.
Here’s a short video showing how basic some of those errors were.
[youtube width=”600″ height=”450″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IoURd0F-Xg[/youtube]
Watching the video is frustrating but the positive is that the Wallabies only need to hold three or four of those balls to set up a more dominant performance, and often when they start sticking the lift in confidence means that the more outrageous passes start to stick — and then we’d see some entertainment.
In defence the Wallabies missed only 15 tackles for a 90% completion rate. Dominant tackles represented 23% of total tackles made. Both those measures are getting up to the levels required.
Once again my player statistics include an Involvement Rate for all players, although I agree with one reader last week who pointed out that this measure is more relevant to the forwards than the backs. You’re never going to win a game without the forwards working hard, which makes this measure so relevant, although the Involvement Rate of the backs is still useful.
Certainly Bret Harris from the Australian seems to like the Involvement Rate. He used our statistics verbatim, including the Involvement Rate, in his article last week defending Rocky Elsom, but of course he didn’t attribute the information to Green and Gold Rugby!
Unsurprisingly, David Pocock topped the Involvement rate again with 0.74. Nathan Sharpe put in a noticeable effort with 0.65. Elsom’s 0.48 was well down from his 0.65 against the All Blacks but I thought his work was more effective in this game and he looks to be getting back into form. Scott Higginbotham starting at number eight had an Involvement Rate of 0.52, which was higher than Ben McCalman’s 0.45 against the All Blacks but well down on the 0.83 Higginbotham registered coming off the bench against the All Blacks. Radike Samo’s 0.55 was also well below Higginbotham’s rating off the bench against the All Blacks. Whilst statistics don’t always tell the whole story, these numbers back up my contention that the Wallabies pack would be much more effective with Samo starting at number eight and Higginbotham coming off the bench after 50 minutes to provide real impact.
I thought James Horwill was the Wallabies’ best player in terms of impact but my Man of the Statistics is David Pocock with a 100% tackle accuracy, 36% of his tackles being dominant, 59 breakdown involvements and 3 breakdown turnovers.
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