Wallabies sticking up for the little guy
November 27, 2010
Drew Mitchell coasts in to score one of his three tries © Getty Images
It's fair to say that not many of us saw that one coming. France had the heavyweight pack, the dominant scrummage and home advantage but were swept aside by Australia, who rode a wave of youthful exuberance and magical backs play to a record win.
The Wallabies have had their critics in the wake of their loss to England at Twickenham, and their deficiencies at the scrum are plain for all to see, but their backline is currently world rugby's premier attraction. The difference between the sides was, as it has been for Australia on a number of occasions this season, between numbers nine to 15.
France selected a powerhouse midfield trio of Damien Traille, Yannick Jauzion and Aurelien Rougerie but were found to be lacking any cohesion. In stark contrast Australia boasted playmakers in every backs position aside from Drew Mitchell, who reigned supreme as a poacher with a second-half hat-trick.
Traille's laboured performance at fly-half was not helped by an apparent cold front between Jauzion and Rougerie, two fine support players that seemed to not be on speaking terms throughout. This breakdown in communication isolated Traille from his midfield and also Morgan Parra from the backline as a whole. French scrum-halves are expected to bear the playmaking burden but Traille must offer more than a simple offloading game if France are to persevere with him at 10.
The most disappointing tactical aspect for France was their lack of go-forward. A series of miss passes when in possession in the first-half negated their massive midfield and back-row and let the Wallabies' inside-backs coast through the opening half-hour.
The threat of Fulgence Ouedraogo and Thierry Dusautoir to the Australian midfield axis failed to materialise at all, with Lievremont's 'fly-half hunters' moniker for the duo hilariously misjudged. Quade Cooper's tackling ability has been much scrutinised since the defeat at Twickenham but France did not pressurise him when in possession and also failed to send anyone down his channel - Sebastien Chabal pulled out a few showy runs but on this evidence the omission of Imanol Harinordoquy from the 22 looks to have been a massive misjudgement.
Adam Ashley-Cooper does not generate the headlines associated with a number of his colleagues but was absolutely superb throughout. Straightening the attacking line may not be as glamorous as taking the scoring offload but it is the bedrock of the Australian game and without him there would have been plenty of points left out there on the field. His days as a fullback/wing/centre must be over and Waratahs midfielder Rob Horne will have a hell of a fight on his hands to reclaim the No.13 jersey upon his return from injury.
After so many positives, inevitably we must return to the scrum. France dominated this area in the first-half to the tune of a penalty try and yellow card to Ben Alexander and the Wallabies must soon address this facet of the game. The cultural difference between 'scrummaging' sides and the Australians is brought up regularly, but it is fairly obvious that with a competent set piece this side can go all the way in New Zealand next year.
Former Wallaby prop and Brumbies scrum-coach Bill Young was the latest to have a pop at Robbie Deans for his handling of the set-piece in the press and it's getting increasingly difficult to disagree. The spectre of England's rope-a-dope victory in Marseille in 2007 will always be there if they do not improve in this area.
With 10 months to go until the World Cup it's advantage New Zealand, but the Wallabies are still improving and have pulled off the same trick as the All Blacks in 2009 by humiliating a talked-up French side at the tail end of November. Lievremont's side are in disarray - the Six Nations will answer some big questions about their candidacy for the sport's biggest prize.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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