A win’s a win, but what else do we take away from that win by the Wallabies?
Gritty performance enough to get the job done
It was by no means the perfect display from the Wallabies, but the most important thing is they ground out the win and their World Cup campaign is back on track. It was a better performance from the men in gold than the slopping display they dished up at Ellis Park a week earlier, but they will need to step up again in a fortnights time if they are to knock off the All Blacks in Perth.
Keeping the Pumas to just 10 points bodes well for the Wallabies defensive systems and assistant coach Nathan Grey, with improved showing largely due to a better defensive shape and line-speed. However, the stats still show 34 missed tackles and you get the feeling a more dangerous attacking team would have had far less trouble scoring points. The attack, led by Will Genia, also improved but with just the one try scored a great deal more improvement will have to be made if the Wallabies are to again go deep into the knockout stages of the World Cup.
Scrum and prop depth a real weapon
Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of Saturday night’s test was the strength of the Wallabies scrum. Coming up against former mentor Mario Ledesma and a huge Argentinian pack the Wallabies monstered the Pumas scrum time and time again and were able to win five penalties, helping to relieve pressure as well as set up key attacking situations. Prop is now the position in which we have the most depth within the squad with a plethora of World Class options at Micheal Cheika’s disposal.
Scott Sio was outstanding on his return to injury while Sekope Kepu bounced back with a solid performance at tighthead. Taniela Tupou and James Slipper kept the pressure on the Pumas when introduced, really turning the screws at scrum time. With Alan Alaalatoa and Tom Robertson yet to play this Rugby Championship the competition for spots at 1 and 3 is really starting to heat up. Add to this the continued improvement of Folau Faingaa as well as the solid cameo of Tolu Latu at hooker and the front row is now an area Wallabies fans can be excited by.
Halves dilemma to continue
Following on from Nic White’s strong showing in South Africa, Will Genia was excellent last night in his last ever game at Lang Park. A fair portion of the Wallabies attack came through the veteran number 9, with his ability to throw a flat ball right at the line to a forward steaming onto it at pace helping the Wallabies obtain crucial front foot ball.
Similarly, the return of Christian Leali’ifano was a great success with his long kicking game and game management skills really giving him an edge over Bernard Foley. Just who will start the first Bledisloe cup test is anyone’s guess, but the newfound competition for positions in the halves can only be a good thing for Australia.
Second half still a worry
For the first 50 minutes or so, the Wallabies looked in control of the test match and deservedly led 16-3. Then, at an eerily similar stage in the game that saw the beginning of last week’s fade-out against the Springboks; they seemingly lost their way with 30 minutes to go. This culminated in a Pumas try with 7 minutes remaining setting up a nervy finish for supporters in gold.
Of the 9 tests the Wallabies lost last year they were only ever behind at halftime by 8 points or less, but loss tests by 17 points or more on five occasions indicating that the Wallabies have a second-half fade-out problem. Cheika will be looking for better performances from his finishers, and I suspect we will see a differently balanced bench aimed at providing far greater impact, moving forward in the Rugby Championship.
Backline starting to take shape
While there was just the one change in the forward pack, Cheika and his selection crew opted for four changes in the backs with all the new additions performing admirably. While we’ve already touched on the striking performances of Will Genia and Christian Leali’ifano, Kurtley Beale also provided a lot from fullback with his ability to step in as a playmaker and long kicking game proving particularly useful.
Marika Korobiete also shone for Australia, constantly coming in off his wing looking for work, something he hasn’t always done throughout his test career. His break which led to a try late in the first half showed the value of a strike winger with express pace, although his pass left a little to be desired.
Bring on the Bledisloe
The Wallabies will have two weeks to build on this performance and iron out the deficiencies in Brisbane before they meet an All Blacks side that will be desperate to bounce back after being out played in Wellington. All Black coach Steve Hanson indicated before the first international that retaining the Bledisloe cup was ahead of winning the Rugby Championship on their list of priorities and you’d expect he will name a full-strength side to play in front of a sold out Optus Stadium.
This won’t include Brodie Retallick however with the New Zealand enforcer, so often the bane of the Wallabies existence in Bledisloe test matches, ruled out after dislocating his shoulder. Cheika indicated after the game that he could continue to experiment with his side and with Alan Alaalatoa, Adam Coleman and potentially David Pocock expected to be cleared from injury we could again see some changes to the 23.