It’s certainly been an interesting week listening to the talk from Eddie about what was going to happen and why. Personally, while I love the way he gets rugby in the news and on the front foot, I’d prefer that him and the team did their talking on the field during the game. I just fear that with all the trash talk since he came on board the media and supporters are going to turn on him if things don’t improve and if that happens it will be bad for the game here.
I personally wasn’t too concerned or surprised when he picked his team this week. His time with England showed that he has a fascination with size over anything else and that was always going to happen this week with the two losses so far. I did wonder how a game of no possession was going to work with big players who lack the speed to then continually chase the kicks he seems to ask for. At the same time I also was pretty sure Eddie would have his players wound up for this game. While I don’t believe his coaching is anywhere near where it’s made out to be, he even exceeds Cheika with his ability to motivate and so I was expecting the game to be pretty hard core for the first quarter or so. The picks at 9 & 10 also indicated a desire to speed the game up and that along with the big pack and motivation would always provide a hard initial start to the game.
The Wallabies were certainly more physical and their one on one defence in the forwards was good all night. The backline didn’t seem to know where they were at times and allowed big holes that the ABs exploited. Initial defence was good but when the ABs changed their point of attack the defence crumbled. The AB forward coach is certainly earning his pay. The Wallabies maul was held easily and the ABs were able to use their’s as a weapon scoring of it to break the deadlock just before half time. This is fast becoming a strength of this team as there have now held off the Boks, Argies and Wallabies lineout maul attacks.
Defensively the ABs were helped by the Wallabies support players either too wide or too lateral and not able to backup when the line was breached. Maybe the continual swapping of players is creating a lack of continuity that is affecting how they play. With the RWC just around the corner this could come back and bite.
For me there were 2 main areas where the ABs dominated as well as some growth in their mental fortitude as a group. Firstly I think the speed and accuracy of the ball off the contest is a huge advantage. Almost as soon as a player goes to ground the ball is out and passed fast and accurately to the next player who gets it in front so they are running forward onto it and into the next contact. This gives the defence little time to set up and creates the go forward ball that can then be exploited. Secondly, the ABs are generally making good decisions during the game. Passes aren’t being forced, tackles are being made and when opportunities appear they are generally exploited. Last nights game wasn’t anywhere near as good as the starts against the Boks and the Argies, however as a group the ABs seem to be able to absorb the pressure and work out what is needed to repel the opposition attack. Last night they held onto the ball more and for longer, even when they struggled to find holes and by halftime the Wallabies had made more than 150 tackles to the ABs 70 odd. By holding onto the ball the ABs were able to control the game and they all seemed to be aligned with the game tactics and what their part was in it. There seemed to be a lot of clarity in what they wanted to do and they did it.
This was by no means the complete performance. There is still some areas to work on in how they defend as a group once the line is broken. They tend to rush to the player who broke through and if the ball is then passed they can be caught out. The lineout maul defence is good, but they also need to develop this more as an attacking weapon. Too often the play is easy to read and defend against. While the reserves/finishers/whatever were good, there is still a period when they need to settle and this can be exploited if not managed better. On the whole though a good run and one that showed they are growing nicely into the challenges for the RWC.