The Wallabies are back
What a performance from the Wallabies at Optus stadium. They outplayed the All Blacks for the best part of 80 minutes delivering a win for the ages. The confidence, the physicality, the skills was something we haven’t seen from this group for some time and helped to inflict the equal largest-ever defeat on their New Zealand counterparts. It was an outstanding team performance with everyone on the field contributing; however, some individuals stood out. Micheal Hooper was frenetic, leading from the front in everything he did, while Samu Kerevi continues to be the most dominant ball carrier in the Southern Hemisphere. Marika Koroibete finally looks like a Rugby player and a bloody good one at that, whilst Rory Arnold firmly established himself as a world class lock. It was a performance that will live for a long time in the memories of long-suffering Wallabies fans.
Controversial selections proved a masterstroke
At the beginning of Bledisloe cup week, the makeup of the Wallabies side was still mostly unknown. It was revealed on Thursday that Micheal Chieka and his selection panel were set to spring several surprises upon naming the team. The most talked-about was the selection of James O’Conner who was named to start at outside centre. The prodigal son of Australian rugby certainly delivered, playing primarily as a link player, something the ABs themselves have employed at 13 for the best part of 10 years, with his ability to put away a winger leading directly to two tries and three line breaks. Another shock selection came at hooker with the much-maligned Tolu Latu preferred to Folau Faingaa. Latu churned out his most complete performance in Wallaby gold, carrying hard, providing a threat at the breakdown, as well as performing admirably at both scrum and lineout time. The selectors gambled further by dropping the man of the match in Brisbane Will Genia in favour of Nic White in what was the most influential selection. White was outstanding, directing traffic and sniping around the ruck. He had nine tackles to go with his second half try and was a unanimous selection for man of the match, his only real blemish was not playing the whistle in the lead up to Rieko Ioane’s try. All 3 men stood up when called upon rewarding Micheal Chieka and the Wallabies management for their bold selections.
A shoulder to the head is a red card
The most significant talking point from the night was the red card dished out to All Black Scott Barrett right on halftime after a shoulder charge on Micheal Hooper. It was just the fourth red card handed out to an All Black and the first since Sonny Bill Williams was sent off against the Lions in 2017. Just like that night in Wellington referee Jerome Garces made the RIGHT decision. Rugby players know the score. World Rugby has made it abundantly clear over the last 3-4 years that a shoulder to the head or neck area = red card. While many, myself included, don’t necessarily agree the infringement was worthy of influencing the match to the degree it did, rules are rules, and it now appears that Scott Barrett will pay an extremely high price for his error as he is set to be ruled out for some of the World Cup.
World Cup squad starting to take shape.
After months of speculation and conjecture, Micheal Cheika’s World Cup squad is now really starting to take shape. Tolu Latu, James O’Conner and Marika Koroibete all secured their boarding passes on flight QF025 to Tokyo with strong performances. Furthermore, Adam Coleman and Matt Toomua probably leapfrogged Rob Simmons and Bernard Foley in the line on the tarmac with just two tests to go before the squad departs. The backline spine of Nic White, Christian Lealilifano and Kurtley Beale have done enough to lock in the 9,10, and 15 positions for the first pool game against Fiji after combining beautifully on Saturday night, while I suspect most of the forward pack will remain unchanged moving forward.
The ABs will be hurting.
Make no mistake, despite posting the largest ever score against the All Blacks in Perth the 2nd Bledisloe test next week at Eden Park has now got a whole lot harder. The All Blacks will be absolutely seething about finishing third on the Rugby Championship ladder with just one win from three games. Micheal Cheika was quick to downplay the significance of the win in Perth, stating the Wallabies had merely got a ticket to contest the cup in Auckland. He knows too well how long a week in Rugby can be. You only have to look back to four years ago where a Nic White try secured a famous Wallabies upset in Sydney. The following week, with the Bledisloe Cup on the line, the Wallabies were destroyed in Auckland, illustrating the ABs are a different beast at Eden Park. A great performance next weekend against a full complement of players will confirm that the Wallabies are indeed a force to be reckoned with in Japan. The nature of the win in Perth, especially the manner in which our forwards bashed theirs will undoubtedly be a real shot in the arm for a Wallabies side that could welcome back David Pocock via the bench. Make no mistake however, there is still a massive task at hand before this group can calculate how many stubbies the Bledisloe Cup can really hold.