“It’s easy to criticise, Dad”.
So said the great philosopher of our day, Homer Simpson. And so are people laying into the Wallabies.
But let’s take a constructive approach to the Scotland match, in the cold light of day. What wallabies lessons do we need to work on this week, looking ahead to a semi-final against Argentina?
Keeping the Initiative is Working
The attack was good, very good. We recycled ball quickly. And we played with real width (as the places where we scored the tries, almost all right in the corner, showed).
We also cleaned out with real accuracy, which is a huge plus. By my count, we conceded one counter-ruck each against Wales and England, followed by zero today. That shows good support play, low body heights, and useful, meaningful rucking by 1 through 15.
Still don’t believe me? We scored five tries, had one by Adam Ashley-Cooper ruled out for a knock on, while Bernard Foley in the opening minutes did everything he could not to score. In short, the attack was very purposeful and we can actually take a lot of positives there.
We missed him, big time. The Wallaby back row played ok, but we just didn’t put any real pressure on at the ruck when Scotland went through the phases (which, admittedly, was rarely in the second half). Ben McCalman really filled out that bell cow ball runner role nicely in the first ten minutes or so, and popped up periodically thereafter. But between him, Scott Fardy, and Michael Hooper we really didn’t offer a credible over the ball capacity at all.
We lacked it. Scotland didn’t score three tries so much as we handed it to them, on a silver platter. One completely absent pillar defender, one charge down, and one intercept. Are you kidding? Scotland were lucky to be in it; they never really looked like scoring at all off their own steam.
But the lack of composure went a bit further, infecting a lot of different areas of the game. One moment in the second half when AAC took a kick-off, had no Scot engaging, and nobody communicated that he had to activate Plan B and turn around and run, was particularly revealing. We turned the ball over from a knock-on at the ensuing maul.
Overall, this was the major issue for the Wallabies today. We spent almost all the second half ahead on the scoreboard. Our inability to realise that we actually had the Scots’ number when they had the ball, and therefore focus on just sending the ball back to them and forcing them to make the running was a major, major shortcoming.
Two of those tries came from what should have been pretty regulation exits from our half. James Slipper should never have had the ball at all in that position on the field, in that game context. Likewise, there was actually a lot of space for Bernard Foley to chip into off the scrum, and KB and Two Dads were right on his wavelength. The execution was poor. true. But up by 6, in a World Cup quarter final? Context is critical in making choices and the Wallabies showed a real lack of game awareness in the second half, repeatedly getting into a good position on the scoreboard only to shoot themselves in the foot.
Tight like a Tiger
Two of the Wallabies’ recent weapons broke down today: the scrum; and, to a lesser extent, the maul.
It was great to see Will Genia make a classy, level-headed call in the second half. The maul broke down, and he simply took the ball and sent it straight to the Scottish right-wing, where Sean Maitland had just been yellow-carded. Try to Drew Mitchell. Smart. But overall, the maul often wasn’t going anywhere at all. It needs work.
In the tight, the scrum was even more concerning, with a string of penalties to the Scots. From the replay, W. P. Nel was folding in on occasion and at least two of those could have gone Australia’s way (Laidlaw’s second penalty, and the scrum when Sio got injured). Obviously, you don’t need a PhD to know that the Pumas are going to be hoping to exert a lot of pressure in that one area. Expect a lot of long sessions this week at training.