Winning Wallabies still not entitled to party
November 18, 2013
Michael Hooper produced another man-of-the-match display © Getty Images
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It took until mid-November for the Wallabies to win two Tests in a row in a desperate 2013 season, but their performance against Ireland provides some hope the gloom may now have passed.
The Wallabies are masters of congratulating themselves, as shown with the party atmosphere that erupts whenever their scrum actually holds up for more than 10 seconds. High fives, whoops of joy and frantic handclaps occur whenever a set-piece disaster is avoided. The joy and ecstasy on show by the Wallabies is over the top at times, but it was justified in Dublin after their most complete performance of the season. Then again, in a year featuring just five victories in 13 Tests, there's really not that much to beat. At least they showed they could build on their efforts in Italy the previous weekend, with improvements in all areas, particularly up front.
The referee turned the scrums into a "Chris Pollock Frolic", taking turns to penalise each front-row, but the Wallabies held up. They won the important scrums, and kept their shape, with Sekope Kepu providing a more solid anchor than Ben Alexander at tight-head. They have also worked out a clear plan to get the best out of their scrum.
Except for one scrum in the second half, the Wallabies, who have in recent decades gone for an openside-blindside flanker combination, instead went for a left-right pairing. Scott Fardy packed down on the tight-head right side, providing solid weight behind Kepu, with Michael Hooper on the left flank. That changed only once, when the Wallabies had Ireland perched on their own line in the corner between the 43rd and 46th minutes. On the Ireland scrum-feed, Fardy was on the left near the sideline with Hooper on the right. But after Australia wheeled the scrum effectively to win the feed, Hooper went to the blindside, Fardy to the openside. From that solid scrum, Quade Cooper effected a brilliant weave to score under the posts.
As crucially, the Wallabies' breakdown work improved. There was at last a bit of passion shown at the tackle area, with Fardy, Stephen Moore and Hooper especially effective in that area, and with it came far cleaner, faster ball for Cooper and co to work with.
Not surprisingly Cooper flourished. His relationship with inside centre Matt Toomua improves every week, and it is rousing to see the young Brumbies midfielder showing such poise and timing. He knows how to change the depth of attack, when to straighten the alignment, when to kick, and as importantly is becoming one of the team's most reliable defenders. Toomua was involved in several important tackles that thwarted the Irish. Having two effective midfield playmakers can only improve the Wallabies' standards.
The Wallabies won in Dublin with their best performance of the year (video available only in Australia)
We are also now seeing the benefits of a confident Israel Folau. For some time, the Wallabies have struggled to find a reliable player under the high ball. But Folau safely gathered everything hurled at him in Dublin, sometimes in spectacular fashion, and it was as if he were in the Greater Western Sydney Giants AFL garb rather than the Wallabies colours, taking several speckies.
The Wallabies, overall, produced a satisfying team performance, but this is not exactly time to hire the party clown, get out the balloons and suck on the helium bottle. Nonetheless there was a bit of helium-like frantic, out-of-synch talk after the game, when Wallabies captain Ben Mowen, who at last was sighted on the field, fell into the trap of praising the Australian scrum.
Mowen told reporters that the Wallabies pack was not "rated" in the northern hemisphere but their performance against Ireland had planted "a seed of doubt".
"We haven't been happy about a lot of the criticism that gets slung our way because we've got a very good scrum," Mowen said.
A very good scrum? Whoa there, Ben!
Not a bad scrum … more like it. You can only go for the superlatives when you perform week in week out, regularly hold up under excruciating pressure, and consistently intimidate the best packs both in the north and south. Not just now and again. Overwhelming Ireland, who are a long way from being the best scrum in the Six Nations, is not quite the time to start doing a Tarzan chest-beat. In a week when Kevin Rudd made his farewell "zip", it is time for the Wallabies from top down to "zip it".
The Wallabies produced front-foot ball for Will Genia to distribute © Getty Images
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