After just 3 weeks with new head coach Dave Rennie, the Wallabies show us there’s hope. Can the Wallabies bring the Bledisloe Cup back to Australia for the first time since 2002? I don’t know yet. But, they did show immense improvement and a level of fight we seldom saw during the last few years of Michael Cheika’s reign.
While it wasn’t a win. A 16 – 16 draw, after the stress and frustration we’ve endured over the last few years, almost feels like a win.
Those 88 minutes reminded me of what test match footy used to be like when I was a kid.
I wasn’t overly impressed with the decision to kick the ball out and take the draw. But, after the game had ticked over into the 88th minute, I understand the decision. And, in a game full of impressive rugby, controversy, twists and turns it would have been easy for Dave Rennie to take aim at the officiating for the loss. Instead, the most impressive moment for the Wallabies came during the aftermatch press conference when Rennie stated: “we’re certainly not celebrating”.
What Gave Me Hope
There was plenty to like. And, before we get into a recap I just wanted to note a few things that are incredibly pleasing.
The Wallabies Attacked With Some Variety
There was a tendency under Michael Cheika for the Wallabies to play very flat. Now, a flat attack has a place and the basic idea behind it I’ve written about before. But to recap, the idea is that you want to give the defence less time to react.
However, it only works if you’re able to put the defence on the back foot and play at speed. If the defence is not on the back foot a flat attack is very easy to defend. Because the only option for the attack is to shift the ball from side to side without moving forward with the ball. Additionally, a set defence can shoot up off the line and cut the ball off well behind the advantage line.
Most good teams understand when to play with depth and when to play flat. And, the Wallabies demonstrated a seemingly new understanding of this and (as you’ll see below), were able to trouble the All Blacks defence.
The Wallabies Played What Was In Front of Them
It seems simple right? But one thing that’s crept into the Wallabies game over the last few years is being very rigid in the way we attack. They’ve implemented very strict gameplans and scripts with little room for deviation. This is why players who like to freelance (Cough Cough… Quade Cooper) have struggled in the Wallabies jersey.
Starting with Nick White, the Wallabies played with our eyes fixated on the defence, allowing the Wallabies to identify opportunities to put the All Blacks defence on the back foot.
Matt To’omua and James O’Connor were equally effective playing “off script” and more often than not made the right decision when taking what the defence gave them (which wasn’t much).
The Wallabies Kept It Simple
Rugby is a simple game. You only have to look at the Crusaders to see that when the simple things are done well, success usually follows.
Gone are the complex defensive structures, attacking scripts and at times confused players.
Instead? We were treated to a team who seemed to understand their roles and executed their strategy admirably. I’m excited to see what another week of training will do.
The game was in every sense of the phrase “a game of two halves”. The first half belonging to the All Blacks. They opened the scoring controversially through a Jordie Barrett try.
— RugbyRocks.com (@rugby_rocks) October 11, 2020
You might be wondering what was so controversial about that try? Well on the phase prior it appears that Rieko Ioane stepped out. Making matters worse is that none other than Australian referee Angus Gardner was the linesman. I’m not sure he could have had a better view…
— Rugby Heaven (@NZRugbyHeaven) October 11, 2020
But you guys can judge for yourselves. If it makes anyone feel better Jordie Barrett missed the conversion.
The All Blacks stretched the lead out 8 – 0 in the 27th minute through a Jordie Barrett penalty goal.
The Wallabies broke the seal through James O’Connor’s boot 4 minutes later.
Then right on the stroke of halftime, the Wallabies had a lineout inside the All Blacks 22. Looking menacing they bungled a lineout move (that the All Blacks would later run to perfection). Which lead to this finish from Rieko Ioane.
— Eric Njiru (@EricNjiiru) October 11, 2020
Upon further review, the try was overturned as it appeared he lost the ball before grounding it.
— Ultimate Rugby (@ultimaterugby) October 11, 2020
I guess that was an evener for the missed call on the sideline earlier in the game? The All Blacks lead 8 – 3 going into halftime.
The All Blacks hit back almost straight after halftime. Giving the Wallabies a lesson in how to run the move they attempted just 15 minutes earlier. And boy did the All Blacks run it almost to perfection.
— RUGBYcomau (@rugbycomau) October 11, 2020
It was at this point that my Wallabies PTSD kicked in and I thought to myself, “oh well, it was nice while it lasted, flood gates are about to open”. And, I’m angry at myself for thinking that, but honestly after all we’ve been through as Wallabies supporters can you blame me? But, to the Wallabies, credit the next 34 minutes belonged to them.
The Wallabies would score their first try of the night through this nice piece of midfield play and a brilliant finish from Marika Koroibete.
Marika Koroibete haciendo cosas de Marika Koroibete…pic.twitter.com/8C5NHkSa2q
— Javier Señarís Senra (@RutgerBlume) October 11, 2020
Amazing what happens when we get our wingers the ball with some space. Speaking of which… 10 minutes later, capping off what was a stellar debut Filipo Daugunu finished off a brilliant heads up play from Nic White for the first of hopefully many tries he’ll score in the gold jumper.
— Blog de Rugby (@Blogderugby) October 11, 2020
James O’Connor missed the conversion which tied the scores up at 13 – 13 with just 15 minutes to play.
James O’Connor’s boot would then push the Wallabies out in front for the first time with just 5 minutes to play. through a penalty goal.
Unfortunately, 4 minutes later a Jordie Barrett penalty goal brought the All Blacks back to even 16 – 16.
To say the next 8 minutes were chaotic would be an understatement. The Wallabies forced a penalty in their own half two minutes after the bell went. With Reece Hodge on the field and the wind behind the Wallabies, Michael Hooper elected to kick for goal from about 57 meters out.
📏 A game of inches….
— RUGBYcomau (@rugbycomau) October 11, 2020
The next 6 minutes produced 3 turnovers and resulted in the Wallabies kicking the ball out on their own try line to take the draw. But they were the width of the goal post from an unlikely victory in New Zealand.
Afterwards, I needed to lie down. It’s the most excited I’ve felt after a test match probably since I was a kid. And I know it’s early, but I feel like there’s a shift starting to happen in Australian Rugby. And if Dave Rennie can have this large an impact in just three weeks, imagine what’s possible over the next three years.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot to work on. The set-piece was a little shaky (particularly the lineout), there’s plenty of improvement to be done at the breakdown and the Wallabies discipline was lacking at times (conceding 14 penalties). But, For the first time in a long time (albeit after one game) I’m excited about the Wallabies prospects and I can’t wait to see what next weekend brings.