What a game! Absolute dominance by the Wallabies in the majority of the first half and then it all turned around with the Springboks taking control for most of the second half until the Wallabies found a way to come back.
Whilst I’ve seen comments that both sides played very poorly in the period of the game that the other side was dominating, that’s not how I saw it when reviewing the game last night. I’d actually put that down as one of the best games I’ve seen since the 2003 World Cup final but I don’t share the view that this was the best game ever played.
In the first 38 minutes of the first half the Wallabies were white hot and the Springboks were just hanging on but they had their moments as well in the first half.
What changed the game was the free kick against James Slipper for collapsing the scrum in the 38th minute. That scrum was the result of the penalty against Johan Pietersen and Jannie du Plessis for infringing at the ruck and given it’s proximity to the goal line, they were lucky that neither got a yellow card. At the time the Wallabies had been hard on attack and given the way they were playing, had they won that scrum, I think they would have scored and that could have blown the game open but the decision went against them and not long after the Wallabies went to sleep and let Victor Matfield run riot. The ruck defence of Mark Chisolm and Nathan Sharpe when Matfield broke away was really poor but if you look at the previous couple of rucks it wasn’t much better. It looked like the Wallabies switched off for those last couple of minutes.
How quickly things can change in a game and the Springboks came out and played magnificently after halftime. The waves of Springbok runners were relentless. Despite the fact that the Springboks scored 30 unanswered points in the period when they were white hot, the Wallabies only missed 10 tackles in the second half and their defence was really strong. A couple of lapses in concentration in possession were what cost the Wallabies in this period, not their defence.
Then the match turned again, with Saia Faingaa deservedly sent to the sin bin, which forced the Wallabies to dig deeper to find some character that I seriously doubted this group had.
The statistics show that the Springboks had 63% of possession in the game – 56% in the first half and 69% in the second half. This meant the Wallabies were faced with a massive 217 tackles compared to only 103 for the Springboks. What kept the Wallabies in the game was that they made 90% of their tackles compared to only 74% for the Springboks. Even with Quade Cooper missing 6 out of the Wallabies 22 missed tackles, it was a good defensive effort against the number three team in the world! Interestingly the Wallabies second half tackle success rate was better at 91% than their first half at 89%.
The Wallabies showed more flair in attack than they have all year and even ran a back line move! The passing was generally very good and their ball retention was much better. The Wallabies only gave up 26% of their possession in the game and the Springboks did even better only giving up 23%.
The difference was that the Wallabies gave up their possession through some poor passes or dropped ball whereas the Springboks gave up most of their possession through turnovers at the breakdown. There’s no prize for guessing who caused most of that damage for the Springboks – David Pocock was outstanding again and his work rate is unbelievable. I bet he’s looking forward to a rest after this weekend’s game.
I thought Rocky Elsom and Matt Giteau had their best games of the year – it’s great to see them running the ball again.
Benn Robinson, Stephen Moore and James Slipper were good with Nathan Sharpe having another excellent game. Ben McCalman made a good run on debut and Richard Brown looked much better as a replacement than as a starter. I didn’t think that Mark Chisolm, Salesi Ma’afu, Dean Mumm or Saia Faingaa pulled their weight.
Will Genia had a good game and was the catalyst for lots of the good things the Wallabies did in attack. Luke Burgess was also really good when he came on and I hope Deans keeps bringing him into the game as Genia tires in the second half of games.
Some of the passes Quade Cooper threw were amazing and it was pleasing to see him controlling the game with some deft kicks in the first half but someone’s got to fix his defence.
Drew Mitchell, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Berrick Barnes were good. James O’Connor is improving rapidly each week and even those of us who have voiced a preference for a specialist winger must be close to acknowledging that he really adds something to the team – I’d be happy to see him hold that position given his current form. Kurtley Beale had a mixed game but his mental strength to overcome a poor second half and land that kick mean that it will be remembered as a good game for him. He certainly offers lots in attack but his defence and how he handles the high ball continue to concern me.
I’m looking forward to seeing whether the Wallabies can replicate their effort against the All Blacks.
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