The Wallabies showed real spirit to turn the momentum around in the match against Argentina on Saturday and come from behind for their second win in a row.
Were the Wallabies lucky to win the match? No. Both teams had some luck with incidents missed in the lead up to a try and both teams had calls from the referees go against them. Did the Wallabies deserve to win the match? Yes. While they didn’t play as well as they can they fought just as hard as the Pumas and there’s no questioning the players’ desire.
Apart from the win there were some other positives. Kane Douglas was really good on debut and was my man of the match; the Wallabies’ lineout was much improved in both attack and defence; the scrum held up reasonably well; Digby Ioane was much more involved; Berrick Barnes was solid at fullback; Pat McCabe played his role well; Radike Samo and Adam Ashley-Cooper both again provided good forward momentum.
In the lineout the Wallabies persisted with their recent lineout tactic with eight of their 11 being short to get forward runners in midfield with the aim of getting first-phase ball over the gain line. The lineout calls, lifting and jumping were all much better – there was good variety in the jumpers used and pleasingly, all four jumpers were used with Douglas the option in the first lineout of the match. He’s the heaviest lock in the Wallabies squad so this showed that size is not a limiting factor when considering lineout selections. This was the only time he was used but it had the desired effect – the Pumas had to mark him through the rest of the match and that took some pressure off the other jumpers.
Overall the Wallabies won nine of their 11 lineouts (82 per cent). The statistics may say the Wallabies had 14 lineouts but three of those were quick lineouts, which have no relevance when analysing how the lineout performed.
The two lineouts the Wallabies didn’t win on their own throw were lost through issues with Tatafu Polota-Nau’s throwing. In the second he was correctly called for a not-straight throw; while not ideal that will happen from time to time so one poor throw from eleven is not a major issue.
However, in the first lineout he got wrong the problem was with his timing. The throw was to Samo at the front and in those circumstances a jump-throw needs to be used with the jumper going up first and the thrower then using a fast, flat throw to meet the jumper at the top of his arc. Polota-Nau threw the ball with Samo still on the ground and as a result the ball went over Samo’s outstretched hands before he could get up. This is a recurring problem with Polota-Nau and while the timing was only slightly off and the ball was not far away from Samo, this sort of basic error should not keep occurring at a professional level — especially when it costs the Wallabies a great attacking opportunity like it did this time.
The Wallabies’ defensive lineouts were much improved with a turnover won in two of the Argentineans’ lineouts. The Wallabies didn’t actually steal either of the two lineouts but they created pressure by competing for the ball in 78 per cent of defensive lineouts, and it’s no coincidence that the pressure the Wallabies applied helped to create turnovers in 22 per cent of the Pumas’ lineouts — the best result from the Wallabies for some time.
The Wallabies won ten of their 12 completed scrums (83 per cent) whereas the Pumas won all ten of theirs. On their own feed the Wallabies were dominant in two scrums and held steady on another eight – a combined 83 per cent. The Pumas dominated only two scrums on the Wallabies’ feed.
The Pumas were dominant in six of their ten completed scrums and held steady on another three for a combined 90 per cent. The Wallabies were dominant in one of the scrums fed by Argentina.
Overall the scrum performance was good, but the issues with Ben Alexander angling down on the engagement and going to ground were still apparent in the majority of scrums, and particularly in those that were reset.
Where the Wallabies really struggled was with their teamwork, in both defence and attack. Injuries forced some selection changes for this match and Pat McCabe’s return triggered another change in the midfield so it’s understandable that some combinations were a little rusty. But those factors don’t explain some of the disjointed play and the apparent lack of communication between players who have played many games together both for the Wallabies and their Super Rugby franchises.
As you’ll see in the accompanying video, in defence there were a number of occasions where the communication between players (if there was any) wasn’t working and the Pumas found holes in the Wallabies’ defensive line.
In attack Quade Cooper created opportunities that runners weren’t taking advantage of and when runners did present themselves as options the timing was often out. Yes, Cooper made some mistakes during the game and if those basic errors continue he’ll be under selection pressure, but the bigger issue is fixing the Wallabies’ dysfunctional combinations that you’ll see in the accompanying video — because, as you’ll also see, when players ran into the holes that were opening up the Wallabies looked quite good.
I thought the Cooper–Barnes playmaker combination with Barnes coming up from fullback worked quite well. Cooper creates the opportunities the Wallabies need in attack – the alternative of a more conservative flyhalf in Barnes stifled the Wallabies’ attack too much for my liking. If Cooper is the flyhalf then the coaches need to start setting their game plans to suit his style and getting the ball runners to get into position to run into the holes he creates.
I believe the same starting side must be retained for the next match against South Africa. With the game against the Pumas under their belt and two weeks of training with the same team in place the Wallabies should start to function much better.
UPDATE: So much for that plan, with Quade Cooper now ruled out for the rest of the games in TRC. My preference now is for Barnes back to flyhalf and Beale in at fullback.