A game that went right to the end and delivered hope for both countries. While NZ was able to hold on and take the win, this game clearly showed a gap between the first team and the backup players. At the same time, the players worked hard to get back into the game and their 2nd half performance demonstrated the ability to not panic and trust the systems. In some ways a game like this will teach them more than what they would have learnt from an easy win. I think that while the coaches will find a lot to work on, they’ll be pleased at the way they held tough and came through for the win.
The first 20 minutes were hard and it was pretty clear that the wholesale changes made for this game were taking time to settle in. The players seemed a bit unsure of their role in the defence and this led to a lot of missed tackles. The ABs defence relies on players making their tackles and so when some are missed they have to scramble to cover the gaps. They also tend to then focus on the break and this creates room for the attack out past the player who gets through. Both the first 2 tries by the Wallabies were a direct result of players going for the break and allowing the supporting runners some freedom.
The links between DMac, ALB and Ennor weren’t as smooth as they might be and this made it hard for Jordan to get into the game. I also think Christie struggled a bit with the pressure at the contest. While his passing is good both ways, he takes just that fraction of a second longer to make the decision on where he’s passing and this does put more pressure on the receiver. I thought DMac handled this well for the most part but it did make it harder for him to find the space he likes so much and some of his kicking reflected the pressure he was under. With the Wallabies wining the contact early on the ABs were not able to control the game as much as they like to and this resulted in some forced play and some below average kicking at times. Also in a complete change from last week, the AB’s were forced to make more than 100 tackles in the first half with the Wallabies making less than half that
The good thing was that after those first 25 minutes or so the AB forwards started to regain some control and start equaling and then dominating the collisions. Sam Whitelock and Ardie Savea were both immense and this settled Finau down and he started to make his presence felt. The disruption of Retallick’s injury wasn’t that big and Vaa’i settled in almost as soon as he arrived. The Wallabies one on one defence was excellent and despite some good pressure they were held out and kept tryless for the rest of the half. Going in at half time the Wallabies were ahead by 14 points. Something they hadn’t managed against NZ for the last 4 years.
The 2nd half was almost the exact opposite of the first half. NZ was winning the contact and for the most part directing play. The Wallabies defence was good and with a couple of blown tries they managed to hold in for a long time. However the input of both Smith and Mo’Unga immediately produced results and NZ was able to make some good decisions that ultimately resulted in points on the board. For the most part they controlled the play with long periods of possession that meant while Australia defended well, they couldn’t dictate the play in the same way they did for the first quarter. The new players settled into the game plan and started playing their role a lot better. This allowed Mo’Unga more time and he could ultimately direct the play in a way the DMac didn’t manage to.
I think this game answered a few questions for Foster and the rest of the coaching group. The team showed a lot of resilience in coming from behind and restricting the Wallabies to two penalties after the first 8 minutes. The new players took time to settle but showed that they can fit in with the game plan and although the attack never really settled in the first half, eventually their processes worked and they came through. I’m not expecting too many surprises in the tour party and while players like Havili, Blackadder and Moody are still an outside chance for selection I think for the most part his 33 will come from the 35 he has in this squad.