Relief, but let's not get carried away
October 7, 2013
Australia's scrum improved for the introduction of Benn Robinson and Sekope Kepu © Getty Images
Adam Ashley-Cooper is wasted on the right wing, for Australia need him at outside centre, Greg Growden believes © Getty Images
Relief at last.
But the Wallabies are having themselves on if they can convince themselves they are well on their way to full recovery after a long stint in intensive care. There were many encouraging signs in Rosario, but let's not get too carried away. Continued improvement is required at set-piece time, their aerial work remains poor, and the endless defensive lapses against the Pumas, particularly in midfield, have to be eradicated; otherwise the trip to Dunedin for Bledisloe III will drag Australian rugby back into the mire.
At least it's pleasing to see the Wallabies smiling again. It's been a long time. Considering what they endured just to get to Rosario, the smiles were justified, too, especially as the Wallabies enjoyed marked advancement in numerous facets of the game. Most importantly they remembered how to find an opposition try line. After scoring just 21 tries in their previous 21 Tests, the Wallabies enjoyed a five-point spree, including several attacking efforts that would have revived the spirits of those many onlookers who had gradually lost faith in Australian running rugby.
The effort of Joe Tomane to take everyone on during the most effervescent of diagonal runs, plus the importance of opting against kicking on your own line and backing up, which saw Bernard Foley score a try in his first Test, reminded all that the Wallabies always look best when unshackled.
Joe Tomane had a whale of a game in Rosario © Getty Images
As crucial was the fact that Quade Cooper played closer to the gain line, allowing him to throw the clever effective inside passes - enabling Israel Folau to score one of his tries. Cooper has been doing that for years with Digby Ioane, putting a scrambling opposition defence on the gain line under excruciating pressure. Now Cooper has to work on a similar relationship with Folau - and that depends on him not sitting back in the pocket but right in the opposition's face.
The Australian attack was also made effective as Will Genia opted against the three-step fandango, and delivered to his inner backs fast and beautiful ball all game; his game confirmed that his alleged off-form blues are officially over, and he is again firmly established as Australia's best scrumhalf.
And at last it appears the Wallabies have unearthed a blindside flanker of note. Scott Fardy performed exactly as he did for the Brumbies all season, and he was the most effective forward on the field in a man-of-the-match performance. The Wallabies back-row has lacked menace for some time, and Fardy was certainly no Mr Nice Guy - scrapping all game - before he was unfortunately replaced well before full-time. It would have been interesting to see Fardy and Ben McCalman working in tandem against the Pumas, but hopefully that will be the Wallabies' No 8- blindside flanker combination for the third Bledisloe Cup encounter.
Folau got all the praise for his hat-trick of tries, but a disconcerting sign yet again was the sight of him being found out in defence; he was shown up badly when Pumas centre Marcelo Bosch easily sidestepped his way past him. But Folau was not the worst in the tackling stakes. Tevita Kuridrani was at times diabolical, falling off numerous tackles, and lucky not to be hooked, which would have enabled Adam Ashley-Cooper to return to his rightful outside centre position from the wing. Kuridrani can at times look good, but he can also appear way out of his depth.
The Wallabies produced their best form of the year in Rosario
Thankfully the Wallabies reserves bench made an impact, particularly up-front. The Wallabies were very lucky to avoid the indignity of a scrum penalty try when they were endlessly penalised on their own line because their pack could not hold up; but they somehow got through that miserable first-half period and their set-piece improved when back-up props Benn Robinson and Sekope Kepu went on. Also reserve hooker Saia Fainga'a, who has sometimes floundered as a Test replacement, picked up his act against the Pumas. That was important because it helped to ease the pressure on an over-worked Hopefully Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie has now got the message that Ben Alexander also needs a rest at tight-head, and selects either James Slipper or Kepu in the No 3 position. And Robinson must start at loose-head prop. Sure, it's not perfect, but it's better than what started the Rosario Test.
Overall, an eight-out-of-ten performance from the Wallabies.
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