Another gritty but flawed Wallabies performance

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness”, as Charles Dickens commenced his Tale of Two Cities.

For the second week in a row, the Wallabies have given their fans a roller coaster performance.

Overall, the good well outweighed the bad.  And they won the game displaying courage and a strong will to win.  I ask no more from any national team.

  1. McCabe showed great speed and tenacity to run Comacho down from behind.  But, he then was yellow carded 10 seconds later.  Impressively, the Wallabies didn’t concede any points during McCabe’s sin bin stay.
  2. Barnes kicked, Dennis regathered 20 metres ahead, Cooper grubbered for a further 38 metres and retained possession, 7 metres from the Pumas line, but the Wallabies lost their own lineout!
  3. The Wallabies counter attacked from a Puma kick, got outside the left side defence, then swung it back to the right, stretching the Pumas defence in all directions only for Samo to drop the ball over the line.
  4. Adam Ashley Cooper is returning to form, but lacks the fundamental draw and pass of a true 13 such as Conrad Smith.
  5. Barnes lived up to the opinion of Todd Louden, his club coach, that he is best suited to 15 rather than 10 or 12.  Barnes used the space well and was good under the high ball, a prerequisite against the Pumas but his goal kicking radar was off.
  6. When Quade Cooper ran the ball to and at the line, the gaps appeared.  However, in most cases, the backline is still committing fundamental errors of alignment in attack.
  7. Cooper’s clever kick in the 20th minute from 45 metres out and chased well by Shipperley, gave the Wallabies a lineout with the throw in 7 metres out from the Pumas line, a 38 metre gain, and possession retained.
  8. The Wallabies defence was strong, again.
  9. This team just kept coming at the Pumas.  At 19-6 behind, lesser teams would have racked the cue.  As last week, at 13-3 down, they also came back to win 26-19.
  10. This performance might beat the under pressure Springboks at home, but it won’t suffice at Estadio Dr. Lisandro de la Torre.

This Wallabies team, with so many starting players in sickbay, such as Lachie Turner, Drew Mitchell, Rob Horne, Christian Lealiifano, Tomane, James O’Connor, Will Genia, Wycliff Palu, David Pocock, Ben McCalman, James Horwill, Sitaleki Timani, Dan Palmer, Salesi Ma’afu, Stephen Moore, Sekope Kepu, are really testing the depth of Australian Rugby.

Last night, the 2012 Wallabies, eventually, stood up but only after again giving the opposition a head start.

The Wallabies conceded the first points with Nathan Sharpe, captain and most experienced player on the field, the culprit.  Conversely, in Dunedin, the All Blacks and Springboks played for 18 minutes without conceding a point.

But the biggest issue, and it is a continuing one, but it is easy to fix, is the alignment and tactics of the backline.  Here is an example.  In one early passage of play in the 11th minute, the Pumas kicked on the angle, but Barnes got to it on the fly 55 metres out from the Pumas line, ran it 15 metres forward, passed to Samo and the Wallabies went into attack mode in good field position. Debutante Douglas made a strong run down the right flank, taking it down to within 15 metres of the Pumas line.  Sharpe ran off the back of the ruck.

Cooper, standing almost 15 metres from Phipps, called for it and then threw another long pass to Barnes.  By this time, the attack was 10 metres behind where Douglas’s run had ended. Comacho, with the help of some forward muscle, stripped the ball from Ioane and ran 70 metres down the field.

In other words, the backs, whose primary role is to advance the ball, had, run it for negative 10 metres, isolated themselves from their own forwards, but moved the ball across the width of the whole field.  The Pumas defence purred with delight.  Their five man line, military straight simply tracked sideways, using the 22 metre line as a theodolite, waiting for the turnover!

This situation was a replica of the backline play, resplendent with characteristic long passes, of both last week and the first Bledisloe in Sydney.

This is a fundamental error.  Going wide is good but only if you also go forward.  This requires players to run parallel to the touchline.  The All Blacks do this magnificently.

Defences simply slide to accommodate the long pass and advance over their “gain line”, at will.

The sweet and sour continued in the 35th minute.  From a lineout, the backs ran a switch play in midfield, and then five delicious phases of attacking rugby that resulted in Sharpe running straight through a Cooper hole and over the line, only to be held up.  The Wallabies then released the pressure when they lost the ball from their own scrum.

During his half time interview with Fox sports, Robbie Deans was of the same opinion on and equally critical of the backline’s propensity for lateral movement.  There needs to be more Cooper needs more options then he needs to use them.

Interestingly, the injury toll has forced Robbie Deans and David Nucifora into blooding new players. The passion has returned to the team with these youngsters.

Often young inexperienced teams give hot and cold performances.  Phipps was one such player among many.  This team can remain the 2nd best rugby team in the world.  They have the ability and the Springboks are a shadow of there former selves.  However, on this performance, the Wallabies will not challenge the All Blacks for international supremacy and silverware, even if the All Blacks continue to leave copious points on the field as they have in their last four games.

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