Bledisloe Cup One – Wallabies Key Takeaways

Wallaby Noah Lolesio and All Black Richie Mo'unga
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cover Art

Given the current state of Australia (looking at you NSW), it’s a miracle we got here for Bledisloe Cup one. Nonetheless,we made it and I am grateful.

As a quick aside before we dive into the game. Does anyone else think it was completely idiotic to put the game in direct conflict with the Olympics? And, more specifically the Boomers epic win over Slovenia to win their first Olympic medal. I appreciate there was no way to anticipate the Boomers would be playing in that game. But maybe don’t go head to head with the largest and most-watched sporting event in the world?

Anyway, lots to be pleased with certainly some promising signs going into Bledisloe 2. But, also a tonne to work on. History might be against us, but this weekend might be the Wallabies time to break the curse.

Nervous Start

Both teams got off to a less than ideal start. Given the state of the world and some ordinary conditions, both teams could be forgiven. But, we have to acknowledge that we got lucky. That was not typical of an All Blacks team to start a game that way. We can’t expect them to start that way again. And, If they do, we need to be able to take advantage. I’ll accept that the nerves are out now and if we’re serious about beating the All Blacks, we have to take advantage of any opportunity they present us.

Of particular concern was our lineout. The wind was certainly a factor, but lineout caller Darcy Swain didn’t seem to make much of an effort to move the All Blacks lineout around in order to free up throws to the front. Instead, he elected to throw to the middle or back of the lineout. This resulted in wonky throws, poor delivery and dropped balls under pressure from the All Blacks.

It’s pleasing that we did eventually settle down in the 1st half. Our set-piece and our decision making improved vastly, particularly towards the backend of the second half. Unfortunately, by the time we’d worked ourselves back into the game, we’d already let it get away from us. Mainly because we left a lot of points on the board in 1st half.

Don’t pin this on Lolesio

It’s true that Lolesio’s boot wasn’t working on Saturday. 12 points were left on the board because of missed conversions (1 from 4) and penalties (1 from 3). But, I think Dave Rennie put it best “You don’t go from an ace goalkicker to a novice overnight…” We’ve all been pretty quick to forget that it was largely because of Lolesio’s boot that we defeated the French.

We place a lot of pressure on our kickers. it’s important to understand that kickers win you games but they don’t lose them. It’s not like any of Lolesio’s misses were easy kicks especially with the conditions. We should remember that.

Lolesio acknowledged after the game that “I have to be better there”. I know Noah, I’ve had the privilege to play with him. I can promise you he will be better this weekend.

Paisami is not the answer at 12

Now that I’ve got your attention I thought Paisami’s first half was elite. He was tenacious in defence, he created multiple turnovers with his line speed pressure and hard tackling. And, he set up this beauty for Andrew Kellaway.

But, I don’t think he’s a 12. His skill set has him more suited to the number 13 jersey. He is an abrasive, aggressive, fast player. He will always carry the ball forward and make defenders miss. And, in defence, he is aggressive and will create opportunities for turnover ball. He’s played most of his Super Rugby at 13 and although he’s not the typical size of an international 13 he makes up for it with the above.

The Wallabies at present lack a secondary playmaker. Normally with a midfield like Paisami and Ikitau you’d lean on the fullback to step up and take on that secondary playmaking role (see All Blacks McKenzie/Barret). But Banks has shown a reluctance to play that role preferring to lurk in the wide channels (which is fine).

We have a young fly-half still learning his craft and I’d like to see us take some of the pressure off him with a secondary playmaker. To’omua and O’Connor (when he returns) I believe are perfect compliments in the number 12 jersey. It alleviates the pressure on Lolesio while freeing Paisami up to do the things he’s good at. On the weekend, the pressure on Paisami to be a playmaker ultimately resulted in this ill-advised pass.

Having that veteran secondary playmaker on the field will allow us to make better decisions. Twice in the first half, the Wallabies put through kicks against a retreating All Blacks defence (one from Paisami and one from Kellaway). With some veteran playmaking out there our young stars won’t feel like they need to force their hand. Speaking of which.

Wallabies bench made a huge impact

The Wallabies trialled 33 – 8 with just 12 minutes remaining. At this point, I’d kinda checked out, the 20 minutes after halftime had let us down. I figured we might score one late to make things look respectable but what happened over the next 12 minutes was pretty remarkable. 3 tries and one conversion. Two of which are shown below and give you an idea of what we’re capable of when the backline is clicking.

Most pleasing, is that there didn’t appear to be a dropoff when the reserves came on. Fraser McReight made an immediate impact forcing a turnover in his first involvement. Bell, Uelese, Tupou and Phillip steadied an already solid scrum. And, Gordon and To’omua gave the All Blacks a slightly different look which they clearly struggled to adjust to.

I felt in particular To’omua was excellent in straightening the attack, taking the line on and shifting the ball when we needed it. If I was going to make a change this week it would be To’omua to 12, Paisami to 13 and shift Ikitau to the bench and let him loose when the game has opened up.

Don’t Compete with the Olympics

Sorry I had to bring it up again, don’t do it! Don’t compete with the biggest most watched and highly publicised sporting event in the world. We need people to watch Rugby otherwise we’ll get completely screwed in the next broadcast deal.

Finally

There’s plenty to like. But we can’t expect the All Blacks to bring the same slow start this weekend. And, they will have spent the week making adjustments to what the Wallabies showed them (particularly from our last 12 minutes). It’s important now that we do the same so that we can return to Australia with a chance to bring the Bledisloe Cup home.

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