Finally, a victory against New Zealand but what can we take out of the game? Sure, a win is a win but now some of the excitement has died down let’s look at the statistics to see what they reveal.
It was really enjoyable watching this game back when preparing my analysis and I have watched that final 15 minutes a number of times and I’m sure I will again.
The Wallabies won 71% of their own lineout ball, well down on the 86% during the Tri Nations. However they only had 7 lineouts and that means only 2 were lost – the Mark Chisolm miss and the horrible confusion when Faingaa came on. So whilst the win % is ugly, I don’t see too much drama there. Now the New Zealander’s with only a 60% win % is a different story – the Wallabies were really good defensively.
Scrum time was a mess and there’s been plenty said elsewhere on that subject so I won’t take up too much time here trying to apportion blame. The Wallabies managed to win the ball from 5 of 8 – 63% but all three where they didn’t get the ball back were from penalties or free kicks. However, a lot of the ball they won was scrappy and didn’t offer a great platform to attack from. New Zealand also had two penalties or free kicks against for a 75% win rate but the ball they won was a lot cleaner. There’s plenty of work required in this area for the Wallabies.
One of the major differences in the game was the amount of possession each side had. The Wallabies started with the ball 43 times, which is a little higher than their average of 38 times in the 2010 Tri Nations but New Zealand only started possession 30 times, well down on their average of 38 times in the 2010 Tri Nations.
Just a quick note before I go further – I only record the commencement of a possession when a team gets the ball to work with, so if the team is in possession and a scrum is packed from which there is a penalty, I don’t count that as a start of possession or an end of possession. The other point to make is that penalties against a team at the breakdown when in possession are recorded as a breakdown lost, not possession ending as a result of a penalty against. These points may clarify some queries on the next set of numbers.
New Zealand lost 50% of their possession (30% through errors and 20% at the breakdown). Of the remaining 15 possessions they kicked 8 times and from the remaining 7 possessions they scored 3 tries and kicked 1 penalty goal.
By contrast the Wallabies lost only 28% of their possession (14% through errors, 12% at the breakdown and 2% through a penalty when in possession). Of the remaining 31 possessions they kicked 15 times and from the remaining 16 possessions scored 4 tries.
The positive from these numbers is that the Wallabies have improved their ball retention. In the June tests this year the Wallabies lost 36% of their possession (30% through errors and 6% at the breakdown) and in the Tri Nations this year they lost 38% of their possession (25% through errors and 13% at the breakdown). I’ll be watching these numbers closely during the rest of the EOYT to see how the Wallabies perform in this area.
Of course the Wallabies strike rate of scoring from possession was affected by 4 missed penalty goal attempts but New Zealand also missed 3. Do these strike rate numbers suggest that the Wallabies were firing blanks in attack? There doesn’t seem to be any need to worry about the potency of the Wallabies attack – 20% of the Wallabies possessions ended with a score compared to 21% for New Zealand.
So what caused this difference in the strike rate of scoring against possession? There was one major factor – New Zealand ended the Wallabies possession on 8 occasions by giving away penalties (19% of the Wallabies possession). The Wallabies only ended 1 New Zealand possession by giving away a penalty (3% of New Zealand’s possession). Whilst I’d rather not be the one to start another round of the discussion about the number of penalties New Zealand concede because I thought that all got a little boring, the numbers in this game can’t be denied.
The penalties and free kicks went against New Zealand 14 to 8 in the match. If we just look at infringements outside of the scrums it was 11 to 4 against New Zealand. Eight of those against New Zealand occurred within their own half and 4 of those were within their own 22. The Wallabies conceded two penalties in their own half and 1 of those was within their own 22. Three of the penalties against New Zealand occurred in the last 3 minutes when the Wallabies were making their charge to victory. The two penalties conceded by New Zealand in the last minute of the game demanded yellow cards but thankfully the referee would have been aware that stopping the game at that time to award the card would have disadvantaged the Wallabies. The Wallabies certainly didn’t look like they were going to wait around for a card against a New Zealander in 2010 and took matters into their own hands.
Onto other areas and the next area I’ll comment on is defence. The Wallabies missed 28 tackles and as a result only had an 81% tackle accuracy rate compared to 86% in the Tri Nations this year. Quade Cooper was the main culprit with 7 misses and I have seen no improvement in his technique at all. We’ve seen video of the work the Wallabies were doing with Phil Blake in their recent camp but it’s clearly not helped Quade at this stage. His problem is with his technique and the main issue is going too high. In 5 of the 7 tackles he missed he made contact with the shoulders and arms but was bounced off. The other 2 misses were poor attempts with arms only. Non’u had a field day running against him on Saturday and no doubt every other team that plays the Wallabies will be targeting him. I believe he’s going to play a vital part if the Wallabies are to finish off 2010 well and then have a successful 2011 but having other players covering for him causes other problems. Let’s hope Phil Blake spends a fair bit of time with Quade one on one whilst they’re on tour because his 22% success rate on Saturday was woeful. Ben McCalman also needs to do a bit of work – all four of his misses were poor attempts with arms only.
David Pocock was absolutely fantastic in all areas of the game. He carried the ball forward effectively; he topped the tackle count and didn’t miss a single tackle. Oh, and he went reasonably well at the breakdown! He was definitely my man of the match. It’s amazing to think that just twelve months ago George Smith was such a vital part of the Wallabies – now I think Pocock is even more important to the team and that is not meant to be a blight on George Smith in any way as he was in great form on last years EOYT – it’s just that Pocock is playing so well at the moment.
Ben Alexander’s work rate was fantastic and the quality of his work around the field was good. Nathan Sharpe was good again and Ben McCalman did plenty of work. Stephen Moore was a little quiet but I really don’t understand calls for him to be replaced by Faingaa as I don’t think Faingaa offers as much at this time. Mark Chisolm’s numbers look reasonable but I thought most of the work he did was ineffective. Of the 8 times I recorded him carrying the ball he only made 6 metres in total with 4 of those carries producing no gain in ground. I think Dean Mumm looked better when he came on and deserves a start again.
Quade Cooper had a mixed day – he looked dangerous challenging the line and his long passes certainly opened up space but apart from his defence I thought he struggled with his kicking and his control of the game in the second half. The footage of him when the Wallabies were awarded a penalty on the left touchline with 3 minutes to go showed him to be very flustered when the Wallabies really needed their playmaker to take control and either kick for the lineout or organise the attack.
Matt Giteau was solid. Let’s look at his performance outside of goal kicking because Robbie has now said that goal kicking isn’t the primary reason for selecting him in the team. He showed some glimpses in attack but still ran across field. In defence he only missed one tackle where he fell off late in the tackle.
I’m a big believer that a player should retain their position unless they play poorly or another player plays so well that they would make a significant positive impact on the team. Giteau didn’t play poorly so the question for me is whether Barnes played well enough to suggest he would make a significant positive difference to the team. In both defence and attack I think Barnes outplayed Giteau when he came on. Was it enough to dislodge Giteau? On that measure alone, I don’t think so but then I consider what positive impact Barnes would have on the team over Giteau and I focus my attention on Quade Cooper.
There is no doubt in my mind that Cooper should be the Wallabies number 10 when he’s available – he offers a real X factor. However his defence and his ability to control a game are real issues for me. In those areas I think Barnes would make a positive difference to the team because he’s a much stronger defender than Giteau and I think he’s better at controlling a game. I think having him alongside Cooper justifies moving Giteau to the bench. I certainly don’t think Giteau shouldn’t be in the 22 and I think it would be a good way for him to get some of his mojo back coming off the bench with 15 minutes to go when he could make a real impact.
One final comment – the Wallabies had a 38% success rate with their goal kicking and New Zealand only had a 57% success rate. It was obviously tricky kicking conditions on the day. Thank goodness for James O’Connor – Mr. 100%! Well done young man.
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