Let’s start with those whose stock rose on Saturday. Happily for Australia, there were plenty of them.
First up, skipper and man of the match, Beavis Mortlock. Along with others I had been lamenting the demise of one of Australia’s toughest runners, and he proved us all wrong with masterclass in how to bust a back-line wide open. What was so encouraging this time was the re-found ability to finish the job off with a timely off-load. 9/10
To me, he just shaved two forwards for the man of the match. Nathan Sharpe had a killer game in both defence and attack. Two stand-out moments being his pill to Ashley-Cooper and turn-over tackle on McCaw. George Smith was the other. He was everywhere, all night; scavenging, tackling, running, passing. 8.5/10
Also in the forwards, even though he was off the bench, Stephen Hoiles cemented his place in the team, and for me as the starting number Eight. He is the true all round fetcher with line-out skills that we’ve been looking for. 8/10
Another one who’s booked his ticket to France is Ashley-Cooper. Even though he was out of position, the rookie showed world class composure for 80 minutes punctuated with a magnificent try. 8/10
There were then a number who also had a good games. Gregan had a fantastic game in defence, and has taken an unfair amount of flak for the first half malaise. Larkham remembered how to slide through gaps and Tuquiri was hungry and fast. Staniforth always looks sharp on the field and picked a try up for it.
Out of the rest were a couple whose games didn’t stand up to scrutiny of the the big stage spotlight. Unfortunately for Huxley the errors don’t seem to be abating. Until Shepherd or Latham are fit, Gerrard may well be an option at the back with his boot and safety under a high ball. Another casualty (and it seems to be literally) is Palu. He hasn’t re-found his rampaging form against an understrength Wales and was anonymous until replaced at the break.
As for the front row, well our problems aren’t suddenly solved. Only the skills of Hoiles rescued a back-peddling scrum in the second half. I’m not sure that even Blake’s bulk would cure our ills. Let’s hope that Foley’s plan matures soon.
(Photo care of rugbyheaven)