So I’m fully thawed out and rested after the game last night and here are some observations:
Huzzah, we won!
I know that doesn’t seem like much of an observation, but at this point of the season and having lost four on the trot, any kind of win is a good one. I think I would be right in saying that this is one of the few times the Wallabies have been in front at half time this year. So many times we’ve been behind and having to chase the game but last night, with the wind behind us, we put enough points on the board to keep our noses in front. It wasn’t pretty but winning beats losing any day of the week.
Photos courtesy of Greg Seaton
The weather prevented anything resembling a good contest
It probably didn’t come across fully on the television, but it’s hard to overstate how crap the weather was last night. It effectively killed the contest before it even started. Link would have had one eye on this during the week I’m sure, but any plans to play an expansive game and try to run the Pumas forwards around would have gone out the window on Saturday morning.
If the conditions last night weren’t the worst I’ve seen in person at a rugby game, they were pretty close. The main problem was the wind. It was strong and swirling around Subiaco Oval for the whole game and was accompanied by sheets of rain on occasion. In other words, bloody awful for players and spectators alike.
Nic White had a good game
The big selection call during the week was the demotion of Will Genia to the bench and Nic White starting. Overall I thought White had a very sound game. His boot was of significant value, especially in the first half and he was able to keep the Pumas pinned down in the 22 for long periods. The service from the breakdown was a bit sharper than it’s been for a few games too.
White certainly showed to me that he is Test quality and this is an excellent development for the Wallabies as a whole, because it means that we not only have more depth but also some competitions for places in the starting XV. Genia has been absolutely untouchable for a couple of seasons now, but it’s good that he’ll have to fight for his spot in the team. Ideally you want this in every position across the paddock.
The work at the breakdown was better this week
Last week we got absolutely mullered at the breakdown by the Boks. They were too strong, too committed and had too much mongrel for the Wallabies forwards. The job didn’t look like getting much easier for the home side this week either, because this Pumas pack love a physical confrontation and play with a lot of passion. I thought we mostly held the line well and put pressure on their ball, as well as securing our own much better.
From my vantage point there were greater numbers in the tackle area and the body height seemed to be a bit lower. These are all good things. Michael Hooper had a strong game and I believe he was MOTM. He’s a great player but I would still like to see a bit more of the “fetcher” in his play to go with all the other fine qualities he possesses.
We played better field position
I remarked in the forums yesterday that we needed to play out of our own half and we certainly did that in the opening 40 minutes. The playmakers largely took the right options and kicked for the corners or hoisted the ball up into that howling southwesterly, thus putting the onus back on the Pumas to not make a mistake. It worked pretty well for the most part.
The second half was the reverse of course, with the Pumas attempting to do the same to us. In the last ten minutes of the game the Wallabies did their utmost to prevent the Pumas getting in position to win a penalty or kick a drop goal. This was smart footy and allowed the game to be closed down when it was still very much in doubt.
We aimed up better in defence
The conditions obviously helped, but the defensive effort was improved over last week. The pack in particular put their shoulders into their work to far greater degree. Last night was a situation where the line clearly had to be held and a stand made. Our defence has been poor for several games now and the whole team had to step up and meet the challenge. I thought we did that and while it wasn’t perfect, the attitude shown in defence (which I believe is a good barometer for a team) was a clear improvement.
Our scrum is still rubbish
Where to start with the scrum? It is a massive concern at the moment and it’s clear to me that we lack the personnel with the correct technique to be effective in this important part of the game. The Pumas must have been licking their lips pre-game, because they’ve always had a great scrum and relish this kind of physical confrontation. It’s not like we don’t have blokes big and potentially strong enough to handle the job and it’s not just the front row either. A lot of the power in the scrum comes from the second row and I don’t feel like we are getting enough drive through the engagement.
I did notice we packed a bit lower late in the game and things improved, but it was heart in mouth stuff every time a scrum was packed. Realistically we should have a guy binned last night but Nigel Owens wouldn’t pull the trigger. I’m a fan of the new scrum laws as a concept, but we lack the technique to even gain parity at the minute. Time to start picking props on their scrummaging ability and not their work around the park.
Still none the wiser who to play at five-eighth
Last night wasn’t really a time to be making a judgement on who best to play at five-eighth, the conditions didn’t allow it. I’m still not convinced about Quade Cooper. His defence has improved, which is a plus, but I feel he’s still too lateral and puts pressure on those outside him. Matt Toomua didn’t see a lot of game time, but he’s been steady in his games so far. I think Link should ponder long and hard about this question and make a call on who the long-term option is.
Perhaps Bernard Foley could be a dark horse? I honestly don’t know who I prefer, but it’s such a key selection that a lot of our future success rides on the attacking game plan and who is best in that pivotal position to implement it.
Argentina are no mugs
We knew this already, right? They are big powerful men who would worry a lot of other teams with their direct and physical style of play. Playing against the Pumas pack would be daunting for any team, just ask our SANZAR cousins this season. I feel like they are a quality midfield away from being a seriously good team and being a lot higher in the rankings than 10th would suggest. I’m very concerned about our return game against them in Argentina.