It was a typical wet November day at Twickenham and it’s fair to say things got pretty heated in the stands, as the Wallabies were forced to accept some difficult decisions and England made it five consecutive wins over the men in gold.
However, the final score belied the nature of the contest. It was in fact an arm-wrestle in treacherous conditions that either team could have won. Unfortunately, rugby and life are not always fair and even though we have an expectation for natural justice that’s not always what we get. That’s why this sport is such a great game for kids. – it instills discipline, humility and resilience. In old fashioned language, it’s character building. It’s fair to say the Wallabies collective character got well and truly pumped up after this clash against the old enemy at Twickenham.
For mine Ben O’Keefe, the young Kiwi referee, had a stinker. He seemed to relish in demonstrating his knowledge of the laws when a quality referee simply interpret the laws in order to ensure we have an even contest. Hence, we’re going to have a look at two of his most controversial calls that were pivotal to the outcome of the game.
The first of these was midway through the first half as the Wallabies looked to spread the ball to their left edge. Samu Kerevi had tipped on a lovely pass under pressure to put Tevita Kuridrani and Marika Koroibete into space. As you watch the footage, you’ll see that Koroibete indicates he wants the ball put in behind the defence and Kuridrani obliges.
Had Koroibete been able to control the ball he scores; instead Michael Hooper dots the ball down. If you watch Hooper’s support line he clearly checks his run when the ball is kicked. What else is he meant to do to get back in the game? This was a brilliant piece of play and deserved to be rewarded with points.
The second massive call from the rookie whistle blower came deep into the second half and was the defining moment in the game. Had the Wallabies been awarded the try it’s 13 v 13 and Australia has all the momentum for the remaining 10 minutes of play.
Instead, it’s fair to say that England’s Owen Farrell got into the ear of O’Keefe who disallowed the try based on an obstruction call.
It was another brilliant piece of attack that deserved to be rewarded, but yet again the Wallabies were denied.
If you watch the clip you’ll notice that when Koroibete makes the bust he has Karmichael Hunt and Reece Hodge on his right in space. Had he released these support players the try would have been guaranteed and the result may well have been different. Instead Koroibete cuts to his left and finds Foley who threatened to score and could have offloaded to Hooper to score. As it was I believe Koroibete scored the try and Stephen Moore’s involvement was insignificant. Yet again O’Keefe seemed very quick to regurgitate the laws of the game whilst showing a lack of feel for the game. These two calls were massive.
I was fortunate enough to work with Ben Youngs and Danny Care in England’s preparation for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. They are very different players and the perfect combination for test match rugby, which makes them the perfect if you want to pick up the tempo with fresh legs at the 50 minute mark.
Ben Youngs is a 95kg bruiser with a great all round game. He can pass, run kick and defend. In international coaching language, Ben’s a test match animal (just like his dad).
If Youngs is the perfect scrum half to start a test match, Care is the perfect “jack-in-the-box” scrum half to be let off the leash against a tiring defence. Danny is an 80kg high octane maverick who you could easily imagine playing alongside Lionel Messi up front for FC Barcelona. He is pure class and he put on a show in the last 10 minutes of the test match to blow the game wide open.
This kick from the base of a ruck was perfectly concocted and executed. Notice how all the players on England’s left edge recognised there was no sweeper behind the ruck. Jonathan Joseph signals with his hand for the ball to put behind Hodge and Nick Phipps. The tactic was tailor made for the conditions, a wonderful example of playing “heads up” rugby.
A short time after Care conjured up another try, and again his short kicking game caused the Wallabies back three embarrassment.
This one started at the base of a scrum on England’s right edge. He put a another beautifully weighted kick in behind Hodge and Jonny May was good enough to do the rest. Both kicks highlighted a weakness in Australia’s kick defence coverage. On both occasions Hodge was slow to turn and Kurtley Beale was too far away to effectively play the sweeper role. Had Care been coming on wearing a gold jersey it’s arguable that the Wallabies would have been good enough to win the match. Such was the impact of the man they call the ‘Mighty Mouse’.
The Wallabies may not have won this test match but they certainly did not lose any supporters based on their gutsy performance. The team was brave and fought back whenever we were on the receiving end of a poor call or when points were conceded.So the signs are good and the team has lost no momentum off the back of this match.
However, as the November Tour is coming to an end there are a two questions that keep coming up for me. First if Moore and Tatafu Polotu-Nau are both being phased out, is it time to see more of the young guns at hooker? Second, if we have a more impactful scrum half finisher, is it time to give him (whoever he is) a go? No doubt Michael Cheika will have pondered these questions and we may see some fresh faces in these two positions going forward.
Until next week…Go the Wallabies!