While the Wallabies’ result against France was fantastic, most people have acknowledged that the French played poorly. So does this match really give us any pointers to the development of the Wallabies in 2010?
Let’s look beyond the score line to determine whether the performance really gives us some positive signs, or whether it may be another false dawn.
The Wallabies’ lineout was good once again with a 93 per cent success rate, against only 57 per cent for France. The lineout has been more than competitive all year and with Nathan Sharpe in the form of his career, James Horwill coming back from injury and the possibility of Vickerman also being available, the Wallabies look strong in this area.
The scrum! What can I say about the scrum that hasn’t already been said, and as I’ve said before I’ve never packed into a scrum as part of the tight five, so my knowledge is theoretical. However, I’ve been watching the scrums and wondering whether Ben Alexander isn’t the issue, particularly his body position in many scrums before he engages. To me, his back is angling down so that as he engages there’s only one way he can go: down into the turf. I was interested to hear Phil Kearns saying the same thing during commentary in the game against France.
There’s been a lot of talk about Benn Robinson not being fit and not being in form and I’m sure this is part of the problem, but I’m one of those who believe you have to have to get your tight head side right first — and that means having a specialist tight head, even if it means sacrificing mobility around the field. Like most people on this site, I don’t understand how Al Baxter and Laurie Weekes could just be discarded without seeing whether they could make a difference. I also think the absence of Foley is becoming more noticeable the longer he’s been off the Wallabies coaching staff. For the Wallabies to compete at the business end of the RWC next year they must achieve parity in the scrums.
The Wallabies obviously came out with a plan to get in behind the French backline by kicking in attack. Overall the Wallabies ended possession with a kick 56 per cent of the time. Add in two tries scored directly from kicks and that’s over 60 per cent of possession ending with a kick. I think there’s a bit of a trend developing with the Wallaby backline for the kick to be a preferred option and I’d still like to see a little more ball retention. With the form of the outside backs I think they could do even better with more possession.
The really pleasing aspect of the statistics for me was the fact that the Wallabies lost only 12 per cent of their possessions —twice at the breakdown and three times with handling errors. The previous best for 2010 was 23 per cent and the worst 55 per cent. A very good coach once told me that it’s often the case that the team that makes the most mistakes scores the most points because they’re trying more things, but at the same time I hate to see too many wasted opportunities. With only 8 per cent of possession lost in the second half, the Wallabies showed what they can really do and wasn’t it great to watch.
At the breakdown the Wallabies retained 98 per cent of their own ball while France could manage only 93 per cent. David Pocock was once again outstanding in disrupting opposition possession.
I’ve seen quotes of only five missed tackles by the Wallabies and while it was generally a good performance in defence, I came up with 13 missed tackles. This still produced a 91 per cent completion rate, which is up on the Wallabies’ average for the season (87 per cent) so it was a good performance. The defence on the EOYT has been a real improvement on the performance in the Tri-Nations.
The interesting point for me from the defence statistics is the lack of tackles Quade Cooper was called on to make. He made three and missed one. After he missed 13 of 23 against New Zealand and England earlier on the tour, I expected every team to send most of their attack in his direction, but that wasn’t the case with Italy and France. I know that last week against Italy he spent a bit of time defending away from the No. 10 channel but I didn’t notice much of that this week. Having pointed out some of Quade’s issues in Austin’s Chalkboard last week, I should now say that even though he didn’t have much work to do against France, what he did was an improvement and even his missed tackle wasn’t a result of poor technique. Obviously he’s been working on this area and I’m sure the Reds will be keen to see that hard work continue once he’s back into training.
Overall the Wallabies’ attack was exhilarating. Points scored from tries represented 60 per cent of the total, which lifts the season average to 56 per cent — compared to the teams they’ve played against with a season average of 48 per cent in their games against the Wallabies. The Wallabies are really becoming the entertainers of world rugby and I’m loving it.
There were some interesting player statistics this week with James Slipper and Berrick Barnes topping the tackle count with 13 each and Rob Simmons being the most dominant tackler with five of his ten tackles being dominant. Benn Robinson was also prominent in defence with eight tackles (including three dominant) in his 45 minutes. Will Genia, Drew Mitchell and Adam Ashley-Cooper missed a couple of tackles each but there were really no poor performers in defence.
Speaking of the backline, their overall performance was fantastic. Ashley-Cooper was really strong in attack and the form of the back three will make it a very tough decision to fit Ioane in next season, even though I think he’s a certainty to come back in.
Among the forwards, I thought Rocky Elsom continued his good recent run of form and while David Pocock was again the hardest working Wallaby on the field, Stephen Moore and Nathan Sharpe also made good contributions. It’s nice to see the forwards starting to work as a unit, rather than relying so heavily on Pocock. While I’m talking about Pocock, I’ll be surprised if he’s not named the IRB Player of the Year.
So is it a false dawn? I don’t think so — I’m sure we’ll still see some up and down performances next year and while France definitely didn’t play well, the Wallabies took advantage and put them to the sword and that’s what a good team would do.
My most improved players over 2010 would be James Slipper in the forwards and I can’t split Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor in the backs. All of these young guys have really put their hands up to be front line players for the Wallabies in 2011.
For me, David Pocock has been the best player and best forward in 2010 and Adam Ashley-Cooper would get my vote as best back.
At times during the season I’ve been critical of the Wallabies, their coaches, their game plan and certain players. However, I wrote at the end of the Tri-Nations that I thought the Wallabies were on the right track and I still hold that view. Over the last couple of months I’ve seen a change in the Wallabies’ attitude, an improvement in Rocky’s captaincy, changes in the game plan, changes in selection criteria and improvements in many areas. I’ve also been saying for a couple of months that I believe the Wallabies will play New Zealand in the RWC final next year and my view on that is firming.
Over the next couple of months we’ll be publishing more detailed analysis of the Wallabies’ statistics during 2010, including a full set of stats for the year so you can do your own analysis. In 2011 we’re planning to offer you even more analysis and it’ll be a big year leading up to the RWC, so stay tuned.
Enjoy your summer break and Christmas. For me, it’s time to focus on pre-season training with my club side.
Click on the relevevant icon below to download the Team Statistics or the Player Statistics.