The Wallabies completed their northern hemisphere tour yesterday in Paris with a humiliation of the current Six-Nations champions, to the tune of seven tries to a penalty try and a final score of 59–16. In the process the visitors scored a mammoth 46 unanswered points in the final 35 minutes of a scintillating performance.
After watching last week’s France v. Argentina match in Montpellier, I was concerned for the Wallabies. I feared that we would need a miracle to win in Paris. The French scrum, their power and physicality in the loose and the cleverness in the continuity of their attack would surely be too much for us. I watched both matches again during the week, however, and my thoughts began to change.
I saw, belatedly, that we could make some holes in this French defence — and, I figured, if our scrum could hold, we were a chance. Indeed, at a Friday dinner with a small group of friends, when we decided to hold a $5 a head pool on the outcome of the match, I was one of only two to support Australia. I went for an 29–18 win for the visitors and won the money. The 59-point tally to the Wallabies was unimaginable, even for my nationalist optimism.
The Wallaby running and passing was good — simple, but good! Indeed, rugby should be played this way. I read once — actually about another sport — that “The truly great players don’t do extraordinary things; they do the ordinary things extraordinarily well!” This was the Wallaby performance. There was enthusiasm in everything. There was power and impact in their tackles. Their passing was accurate and their lines of running were much straighter, with Kurtley Beale an object lesson for all aspiring players. It’s amazing how acceleration and straight running can fix a defender. Replay Kurtley’s virtuoso efforts over and over for these youngsters!
It must be said, however, that the French seemed to capitulate in the most surprising manner. Their lack of defence, for example, in the lead up to Will Genia’s try was unfathomable. It appeared — almost at the flick of a switch — that they had decided that the required effort was too much for them, and that, if the others wanted the win that much, well, they could have it! Six tries, in the space of 35 minutes, against a major rugby nation, is just not on. Their midfield was big — everyone was impressed that this would add a physical edge to the French team. But they were slow; indeed the whole French team looked slow. There were some clever moments, with slick passing and running, but their attack virtually never threatened the Wallaby defence, even when the Wallabies were reduced to 14 players, with Ben Alexander’s yellow card.
I said of the Wallaby performance two weeks ago, against England, that “they had no stomach at all for the contest.” This week they were positively ravenous, even still looking in the 80th minute to add to their total. There was enthusiasm and the sheer ‘joy of playing’ — and playing well. This will always sustain even the hungriest team!
In detail: Our scrum still suffered badly, although Benn Robinson’s arrival heralded a much-improved effort. It is worth remembering that this coincided with Servat’s departure with an injury, and that there were only about two or three scrums in the remainder of the match. Quade Cooper underplayed his game. I have always understood that the fly-half role was a ‘semi-restricted’ one — but in recent times, Cooper had given me cause to doubt the rigidity of such a view. After yesterday, I hold firm to my original view. The ‘underplayed’ hand was miles more effective and when he decided to cut loose late in the game, the French defence was caught sadly lacking. The passing, as I have already said, was accurate. This is the second time in a few weeks — the previous time was against New Zealand in Hong Kong — and proved hugely productive.
Adam Ashley-Cooper’s straightish running and Kurtley Beale’s straight running were devastating. This was ever the case. Straight running on attack limits the ability of the defence to cover any width and the Wallabies were thus consistently able to expose the fringes of the French defensive line. When the French decided to shore up the edges, by moving the fullback up, the Wallabies simply capitalised on the unguarded space in behind. This gave numerous opportunities to the visitors and, I think, two tries. In all honesty, this was all pretty amateurish stuff from the French. On the other hand, good, simple, direct attack can often make any defence look amateurish!
For the Wallabies, Stephen Moore was once again outstanding. He just kept on offering himself in both attack and defence. Our lineout was good. David Pocock was back near his best and Rocky Elsom was also prominent. All of the backs played their part and Berrick Barnes was an effective foil for the ‘new look’ Quade Cooper. The back three were again outstanding. The forward effort in defence and at the tackle were both the best of the year. They seem to have belatedly discovered the ‘counter-ruck’ and even had consistent ‘numbers’ to apply it! Benn Robinson was a genuine contender for ‘man-of-the-match’ and he only played for half of the match.
France have continued to fiddle with selections and have fiddled their way into confusion. I cannot believe that this was their best available team. No Harinordiquy! No Millo-Clusky! A ponderous mid-field and a timid fullback who appeared to have graduated from the Quade Cooper defence school!
This was a great end-of-season fillip for us despairing Wallabies supporters. We are not there yet. Not by a long shot! But when we add this perform to our first ‘tour’ performance, in Hong Kong, there is some reason for cautious optimism. And we played like fair-dinkum Aussies. At last!