The defence numbers for the Wallabies in their game against Italy look impressive: 94 per cent of tackles completed — their best result for the year — and 29 per cent of tackles were dominant, equalling their second-best performance of the year.
Improved organisation and more aggressiveness resulted in only eight tackles being missed! Of course we need to keep in mind that Italy didn’t ask too many questions in attack and the Wallabies had a mountain of possession.
There was however one major issue with the Wallabies defence and yes, it’s Quade Cooper again. What issue, I can hear you saying — and that’s exactly the point! How does a player go from having a less-than 50 per cent success rate in the first three games he’s played on tour, to a 100 per cent success rate this week — and make a dominant tackle? I’ll post a video analysis on this issue later in the week but for now all I want to say is: well done Quade and well done Phil Blake — I hope you keep it up against France.
While we’re on defence, David Pocock once again topped the tackle count despite being replaced in the second half, but this week he had some help, with Rocky Elsom sharing top billing and the debutant starting players James Slipper and Rob Simmons not far behind. In fact, the whole pack shared the workload and was solid in defence, with Ben McCalman being the only forward to miss a tackle. The back three weren’t called on to do a lot of work in defence and our centres, Berrick Barnes and Adam Ashley-Cooper, accounted for 50 per cent of the team’s missed tackles between them.
Despite the scrum issues, that last Italian scrum where Rocky picked the ball up meant that the Wallabies ended with a better success rate (83 per cent) compared to the Italians (80 per cent). The Wallabies were much stronger in the lineout with an 83 per cent success rate against 64 per cent for Italy; however, we need TPN to work hard on his throwing this week, as he looked very rusty when he came on. His first throw was a shocker and while he got away with his second, it wasn’t straight either.
The Wallabies enjoyed a big possession advantage — 42 possessions compared to 34 for Italy and taking the ball into 91 breakdowns against Italy’s 67 — but did very little with that advantage, with only three line breaks to Italy’s one. I know the field was narrow, but for me the real issue was a lack of respect for the ball. There were too many 50/50 balls thrown and some poor handling. The Wallabies need to show more composure with the ball in hand — sometimes the best option is to hold onto the ball, take it into contact, and focus on retaining possession for extended periods to wear the opposition down.
One final area I’ll make comment on is the continuing inaccuracy of our kicking in general play. Of the 17 times the Wallabies kicked to end possession, I consider eight of them to be poor kicks. Of those, three were poor because they were kicked from within the 22 but the kicker failed to find the line (two from Cooper and one from Beale). This is one of the basics of the game — you don’t want to give the opposition opportunities to counter-attack, particularly when you’re on top at the lineouts!
When you combine the eight poor kicks with the 12 times the Wallabies lost possession, that’s nearly 50 per cent of their possession wasted. Without improvement in these areas, the Wallabies will be relying on their goal kicker far too often to get results going their way.
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