With the bitter taste of defeat having receded a little (it’s gone from vomit in mouth to stinging heartburn) I’ve started to reflect on some of the more positive developments in the Wallabies play that we saw in Hong Kong.
The four training camps since the last Bledisloe – labelled by participants as the toughest they’d been in – has given the coaching set up a good crack at getting beyond the fundamentals of the Wallabies play, and the changes – although some still half baked – have been fascinating to watch.
One of the themes starting to emerge is a willingness to explore the width of the pitch. Note on Saturday how the back three of Hynes, AAC and Mitchell would ship the ball across field on long kick returns. While unfortunately the ultimate result tended to be a misdirected kick back downfield, we also saw them at the very least buy time and on a few occasions find holes to attack.
It’s not the quality of the feared Crusader counter-attack just yet, but with confidence built over time this could become a feature of Wallaby play that doesn’t just rely on Lote or the long lost Latho pulling a rabbit out of the hat.
To go with this width usage, was a much improved ball handling capability – in the first half anyway. Crisp passing finding men in space, at angles or looping back to relieve pressure. Halfway through the first half I believe the handling errors were something like 5-1 our way.
We were also a Mortlock’s hand away from the most beautiful try of the night on about the 44th minute, following the scrum that the Wallabies elected to take from McCaw’s penalty. Mortlock had drawn the whole AB midfield and had that Giteau pass found Hynes ghosting in behind AAC, there was nothing between him and the line. Again, it wasn’t perfect, especially in the second 40, but even the kiwi commentators noticed it.
What the Sky Sports NZ also picked up on was the intensity – especially in the first half. What I liked about this was the re-emergence of counter-rucking and competition at the breakdown when in defense, putting Cowan and co. off their stride. I thought Smith, Brown, Mumm and Chisholm (yes, Chisholm) all got stuck into this. We need more of this from bigger blokes for longer, but it’s a start.
Did I mention Luke Burgess? (hehe) Having seen the Wallabies without him, it’s hard to credit the guy with too much influence. His speed around the breakdown is now key to the Wallabies attack and his covering defense outstanding in a vital role around and behind the ruck. All this in his first season and back from an injury. Someone start a Burgo half-back cloning scheme pronto.
Last but not least was the scrum. Even the professional northern hemisphere whinger Stephen Jones noted some of the hits the pack were putting on the AB scrum, and this was conceding 30kgs.
Australia played very well in patches, their scrum was even solid in parts and their play behind the scrum and in attack was more incisive and clinical than that of New Zealand.
I can’t remember seeing an Aussie scrum getting as much go forward on their own ball for a long time, let alone against the Kiwis. I’ll keep my powder dry until Twickenham, but if we hold our own there then I for one will push for the canonisation of Michael Foley. Chickens before they’ve hatched and all that though.
Real, meaningful progress. Or just wishful thinking after another loss?