Just an opinion piece on my read of the game. Like every opinion, yours may differ and you know what? That’s ok.
In the last warmup before the RWC, The Wallabies took on France in France. It didn’t go the way the Wallabies wanted but despite a score blow out, there are some points to take away from this match. By far the biggest though is the missed opportunities from mistakes close to the French goal line.
Now while a 41 – 17 loss demonstrates some compelling shortfalls, the game itself also showed a lot of areas of improvement for the Wallabies. In particular some of the players stepped up in a way they haven’t all year. I personally don’t hold with some comments I have read about “the score not being a true reflection of the game!” Sorry but the score is not only “A” true reflection of the game, it is in fact the “ONLY” true reflection of the game. Regardless of some very good points and improvements, the fact is the French were able to score 41 points, while the Wallabies were only able to score 17. Everything else actually doesn’t matter when the whistle blows to end the match.
However, in saying that I think there is a lot the Wallabies can take from this game. Individually there was some very good play. Valentini, Bell, Skelton and Tupou carried well and generally made ground in the collision. The scrum was good when Bell and Tupou were on and while the support play lacked cohesion at times, generally the forwards kept the Wallabies on the front foot in attack. The lineout was good, when the throws were straight, and defensively they kept the pressure on the French forwards in the lineout so that was good to see. Unfortunately, things broke down a bit from there. Again, while individually the loose forwards played well, they never seemed to gel as a team and seemed to not really understand how their role fitted into the team. There was a lot of one-off hit ups that didn’t seem to create space or allow for the ball to be then used elsewhere and just tired the players out.
I thought the backline struggled at times and never really looked like creating any attacking play as a set established move. The breaks they made seemed to be a surprise and the backup and cohesion needed to exploit them just wasn’t there. At the same time the defensive line seemed to rely on individuals doing their work and didn’t seem to understand how they needed to work together. Poor Kellaway just about ran himself ragged carrying the last line of defence on his own. In saying that, I thought there was also some good back play at times. Vunivalu proved that while nowhere near international level yet, he is slowly improving and at least demonstrated his good high catching skills. He still looks lost on defence and needs to get better at reading the play so he’s in a position to help Kellaway, or whoever is at 15. The midfield was poor in both attack and defence, and it didn’t really seem as though either Foketi or Petaia new who was doing what and when they were going to do it. Maybe they just need more time together. Carter Gordon seems to be struggling a bit and I do wonder if missing those kicks got to him and affected his game. I actually think that his play was good, although I did expect him to run more than what he did on the day.
The real issue for me though was the missed opportunities. At least 3 tries were blown because players made the wrong decision at critical times and let the French off the hook. If one or two of those had been prosecuted, then the flow of the game could have changed and gone Australia’s way. Not having a reliable goal kicker hurt the team and again if a few of those kicks had gone over the game would have changed and France would have been under pressure.
As I mentioned earlier, there was a lot of good to come out of this game and while the Wallabies pool isn’t the cakewalk it was expected to be a few months ago, I think that Wales is the team most likely to suffer with Fiji’s increased performance. The challenge for the Wallabies is to take the lessons from this game and apply them in the next, while continuing with the good they can produce.