Don’t Give Up On The Wallabies Just Yet

Wallabies players looking dejected after losing bledisloe 2
Photo Credit; Getty Images/Cover Art

I think we all knew this was coming, but don’t give up on the Wallabies just yet. It’s not often that the All Blacks play two sub-par (by their standards) games in a row. But the Wallabies still did their job in New Zealand. If I said to you 12 months ago, “we’re going to play 4 Bledisloe’s next year and I can guarantee you’ll draw and lose the first two games in New Zealand. But the 2nd two will be at home.” I think you would have taken that deal.

With two Bledisloe tests left to play, on home soil. The Wallabies have kept our hopes alive for the cup to come back to Australia for the first time since 2002.

But don’t get me wrong they cannot retreat into their shell as they did on Sunday.

Defence

My old man always used to say to me when I was a kid “if your defence is good, you only need 3 points to win”. When I was playing schoolboy footy I reckon I was in year 11. I was captaining a team on a cold, wet and rainy day. We picked up a penalty early in the first half, right in front of the sticks. Normally, taking 3 points is a big no-no in schoolboy footy. But I heard my dads voice and instinctively pointed to the posts. There were some boos… We won that game 3 – 0. And, my Dad just gave me a nod after the game.

It seems Dave Rennie agrees, focusing his attention to the Wallabies defence rather than their attack. “The teams that have beaten the All Blacks in the past have limited [teams] to less than 15 or 16 points. That’s our challenge.” To say the Wallabies were poor defensively on the weekend would be an understatement.

The Wallabies leaked 27 points on Sunday, 17 of which came in the 15 minutes after half time. After going into the half 7 – 10 the All Black needed on 15 minutes to put the game away.

We can maybe attribute some of that to the Wallabies midfield having to reshuffle with Matt Toomua heading to the sideline before halftime. But, when it’s well known that the All Blacks score points in bunches, it’s hard to believe that wouldn’t have been a focus during the halftime chat.

I have the Wallabies at 50 missed tackles (it has been reported elsewhere that they missed 40). By my count 28 of those came from the players wearing the 7, 9, 10, 11, 13 and 14 jumpers. Indicating that more than half of all missed tackles came through the midfield and edge channels.

This is problematic when playing a team that features Jordie Barrett, Beauden Barrett, Caleb Clarke and Dane Coles all lurking on the edges.

All those missed tackles allowed Savea (49 carry metres), Cane (41 carry metres), Goodhue, Lienert-Brown and Umaga-Jensen (47 carry metres combined) to generate massive go-forward.  Provided opportunities for the guys above, to run in space, or at a broken defensive line. When you juxtapose this with the week before when the Wallabies limited Savea, Cane, Goodhue and Ioane to just 42 carry metres combined. Given that information, you can see how the score was able to blow out the way it did.

Speaking of attack…

Attack

The Wallabies forward pack didn’t really fire a shot during Bledisloe 2.

Anyone who’s ever played fly-half will tell you it’s really difficult to play behind a forward pack that isn’t moving the ball forward. Usually, the back-row takes on the bulk on this responsibility, with support from the midfield.

In Bledisloe 2 the Wallabies back-row combined for just 45 carry metres, with the midfield chipping in for 75 (Petaia added 38 of his own when he subbed on). When you look at those stats vs the All Blacks above, it’s no wonder the All Blacks were able to open up the Wallabies. They got significantly more go forward from their pack which put the Wallabies on the back foot.

The Wallabies backline did their job, they took the ball forward when they could. Accounting for just over 60% of the Wallabies ball carry metres. But they’re going to need the support of their back-row. Perhaps this will be Isi Naisarani’s job heading into Bledisloe 3?

When the Wallabies pack did carry with purpose and move the ball up the field good things happened, like the Wallabies lone try of the game.

I don’t think Rennie has found the right combination in the 6 and 8 jumpers yet. In Bledisloe 1 we saw Wilson and Samu take the ball forward but the breakdown was a bit sloppy. In Bledisloe 2, Hanigan and Wilson weren’t as effective with the ball in hand, but the breakdown was still a problem.

Speaking of which…

The Breakdown and Turnovers

The Wallabies turned the ball over 23 times during Bledisloe 2. Not an alarming number when you consider the All Blacks turned the ball over 21 times. What is alarming, however, is how the Wallabies turned the ball over. 13 turnovers came via the breakdown or a loose carry. The All Blacks had just 6 forced turnovers.

As mentioned above, the Wallabies haven’t yet found their back-row combination. To compete with the All Blacks you need to have a good mix of ball carriers, turnover hunters and ruck hitters. The Wallabies haven’t quite found that balance yet.

Samu and Wilson are primarily ball carriers and ideally, you don’t want them expending a tonne of energy hitting rucks. When I saw the team announcement, I understood what Rennie was trying to achieve. Hannigan, in theory, should have provided the Wallabies with another big body to throw at the All Blacks at the breakdown.  But it can’t just be up to one player. Take this example.

Hunter Paisami does a great job here, he takes the ball forward and commits three defenders to the ruck.  His inside support players, however, are a step too late and far too passive into the contact zone. Granted, the All Black tacklers Lienert-Brown and Mo’unga do an excellent job of blocking the shortest line to the breakdown. But even if the All Blacks are there Salakaia-Loto and Philip still need to take that line. I can promise you if Lienert-Brown or Mo’Unga gets stepped on or hit in that channel here they won’t do it again. If Salakaia-Loto and Philip take the short line, Frizell doesn’t have a shot at the ball and the Wallabies win the ruck.  Because they took the long route they were half a step too late and hit the ruck with no momentum, allowing Frizell to survive the cleanout.

Here’s an example where Slipper takes out the tackler in the channel but fails to complete the cleanout.

To’omua does an admirable job here getting the ball to the advantage line after being hit by Tuipulotu. Again the All Blacks tacklers remain in the Wallabies support players channel. Slipper initially does a really get job shifting Tuipulotu, but then rather than focusing his attention to Frizell who’s hunting the ball he has a second crack at Tuipolutu. This leaves Philip a step behind and just arrives too late, he makes good contact but Frizell rips the ball free with that half-second head start on Philip.

These are just two of several examples of the Wallabies missing those 1 percenters. And, unfortunately, those 1 percenters are what win you games against the All Blacks

Final Thoughts

Yeah, this weeks column has been a little bit doom and gloom. But I’d like to remind you of the point a made right at the start. We’re into our 3rd Bledisloe game (of 4) and we’ve left New Zealand having with a draw and a loss. We now get two cracks on home soil to get wins and bring the Cup back to Australia.

The most pleasing thing? None of what’s been outlined above is un-fixable, a few tweaks and we could get a win in Bledisloe 3. Then, anything could happen during game 4.

 

 

 

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