What a game. Rugby is bloody good, but international rugby is even better.
I’m still buzzing from the result, and the experience of being at the ground to see a great Wallaby win. Here are a few things I picked up from watching the replay:
It was the 58th minute. Ireland have just edged in front, 9-8. On to the field jogs Johnny Sexton. Tadhg Furlong and Cian Healy entered the fray a few minutes beforehand. The Irish crowd have found their voice, and you get the feeling that something is about to give. And it did.
If you told me at that point that Ireland would win by 10+ points, I would have believed you. The composure of the Six Nations champions would be too much against a Wallaby side that had been defending relentlessly for the previous hour. We’d surely slip off a tackle or two, fumble a pass or buckle in the scrum.
Much to my surprise, it was the Wallabies who stepped up. And wasn’t it bloody great to see! We upped our intensity, made a few big plays and 15 minutes later we had a ten point lead. And it was a lead generated by the work of all 23 players.
Flipping the script
One team dominated possession and territory, but suffered due to their inability to find an alternative strategy when Plan A wasn’t working. They missed a regulation penalty goal, spilled a couple of up-and-unders and their scrum buckled at the worst possible time.
Meanwhile, the other team played a smart strategy that ruthlessly exploited their point of difference, and capitalised on every chance that was presented to them. They came away with a relatively comfortable win despite being behind in most key statistics.
I’ve seen that game a dozen times before, and eleven of those times the Wallabies played the former role. We’d play all the rugby but be defeated by our own hard-headedness and mistakes at crucial times. On Saturday, for once, we played the latter role. Long may it continue.
We’ll get better
I’m really excited to see how we perform on Saturday, because we were underdone in so many ways last weekend. Our lineout was shambolic. It’s not really anyone’s fault – it’s just what happens when you throw blokes together on a Monday who have never met, and then expect them to compete against a world class set piece that Saturday. It will improve with time.
That had a tangible impact on the way we played. We couldn’t risk throwing to the back, so we stuck to jumpers at 2 and 4, which meant we never got a chance to unleash our backs in space.
Our attacking patterns will be a step faster, our passes a little crisper (unpopular opinion – Will Genia was below his best and his passes were too often an inch behind where they needed to be. That will change this week). Bring it on.
Ireland will be better too
They played below their best, and they know it. I expect them to bring all their big guns back, and be a bit more prepared to counter our game plan. Sexton will be key, but Gary Ringrose will be important too, and they will undoubtedly look to work the 12-13 channel far harder than they did in Brisbane.
I’d also expect them to be more dynamic in the contact zone – an area where they were out enthused by the younger Wallaby pack. With the sizeable Irish diaspora behind them, they will be coming back harder than ever, and it sets up an enticing match in Melbourne.
Ruck pressure tells
David Pocock has been rightly showered with praise for his efforts at the ruck on the weekend. But the reality is he’s just the leader of a very capable band of breakdown performers. The Michael Jackson of our Jackson 5 – accompanied ably by Jermaine (Brendon Paega-Amosa), Tito (Michael Hooper), Jackie (Caleb Timu) and Marlon (Pete Samu). Together they recorded their own version of ‘I’ll Be There’ – whenever the Irish carriers went to ground, they were there.
It was this ruck pressure that laid the foundations for our brick-wall defensive effort. More often than not, the Irish had to commit 3-4 cleaners to ensure clean ball, and this bought us crucial seconds at every phase. This allowed us time to set our line and come up as a unit, cutting off any wider channels.
The few occasions where Ireland managed to secure quick ball was when they looked most dangerous. Against a backpedalling line they found half-gaps and freed their arms to offload. It’s key that we repeat this tactic in Melbourne, and find a referee who lets us push the boundaries without sanction.
Our biggest weakness coming into the game was backline defence. Neither Samu Kerevi nor Kurtley Beale are noted defenders, and we risked being exposed in midfield if they didn’t bring their A games to the table.
To their credit, they were both outstanding. I don’t recall seeing a better defensive game from Beale in the last decade. His read and tackle on Conor Murray was brilliant, and secured a penalty at a crucial time. Kerevi was also brilliant, making numerous big hits that held the Irish backs behind the advantage line.
I’m not ready to herald them as ‘rock solid’ just yet, but if they can back it up this weekend it will go a long way to plugging a major hole in our XV as we approach the World Cup.
One of the defining features of our run at the 2015 World Cup was the performance of our bench unit, particularly in the front row. Last Saturday bought back those pleasant memories, with Tom Robertson, Tolu Latu and Taniela Tupou shifting the momentum of the game with a number of key plays.
Tupou, as we all suspected, is the real deal. And I was derided in my pre-match article when I said that Robertson was playing some of his best rugby for the Waratahs. Well to those commenters (you know who you are) I say this – EAT YOUR WORDS. Not only was his scrummaging up to the task, but he made a number of key carries as well.
They were backed up by good efforts from Samu and Rob Simmons. I don’t blame Rob for spilling that pass, it was behind his hip and he would have done well to hold it. He made a number of big hits and good carries, too.
I thought Marius van der Westhuizen had a good game. He allowed the game to flow pretty well and made no real clangers. David Pocock could consider himself a bit unlucky, but that comes with the territory when you play an on-ball game.
The decision to overturn our try in the second half was obviously a talking point, but I struggle to blame Marius for that decision. Under the Laws the right call was made. My issue is with the guidelines that allow them to make it – acts of foul play can be called by the TMO at any time. Maybe it’s time to limit this to acts that meet the threshold for a yellow card, because while Adam Coleman committed a clear penalty, it didn’t come close to warranting a yellow card and it didn’t really have a tangible impact on the game.
The karma we earned from that came back to help us in the closing minutes, when the marginal calls began to fall our way. The refs giveth, and the refs taketh away…
It was my first trip to Suncorp, and I had a great time. The steep high walls of the stadium allow the noise to reverberate well, and there are no bad seats. It was easy to get to the game, and it’s so close to the city.
However I do have one bone to pick. There were a number of stoppages where the ground was just… silent. No music, no announcements, no commentary. The crowd were there to be roused, but nothing ever happened.
Key moments were missed – Pete Samu’s debut wasn’t even acknowledged as he replaced Caleb Timu. Johnny Sexton’s arrival in the game was similarly ignored. The TMO struggles were never explained, either. My girlfriend was constantly asking me for explanations when the play stopped, and these should have come from the ground announcer.
As an aside, we need to work out some sort of chant that our nation can get behind. What is our ‘We. Are. Red’ or ‘New. South. Wales’ cry? The Irish fans found their voice, but where was ours? This is where the bloke on the PA needed to step up and stoke us into action. Alas, we were left un-stoked.
But aside from that minor grievance, I had an amazing time. And Brisbane is a surprisingly beautiful city.
Then again, everything looks beautiful on the morning after a Wallaby victory.