Wallabies beaten by a team built like dart players
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Before the Australia-England Teat began, high up in the stands of the ANZ Stadium, I was asked how I thought the Test would turn out. I gazed around me. Most of the crowd were wearing their yellow scarfes and beanies, making the arena look like a field of golden daffodils.
In a section behind the posts were a phalanx of England supporters in their white jerseys. “I reckon the score will be around 30 to 12, the Wallabies way,” I told my friend.
And early on in the Test, despite the England opening penalty, it looked as though this overly optimistic prediction might work out. And the reason for this was that the Wallaby scrum seemed to be greatly improved on the disintegrating mess of the Perth Test.
From the first scrum, the Wallaby front row held up and managed to execute a slow-motion wheel, which gave the feed to Australia. From the following scrum, the England pack was penalised.
I’ve heard some mighty roars at the ANZ Stadium in my time, but the explosion of sound, like a hundred cannons going off at once, created an incredible moment.
In general, the Wallaby scrum held up throughout a tough night of scrumming. But it must be acknowledged that two of the penalties England kicked came from scrum errors by the Australian pack.
The fact remains, after watching the All Blacks and Springboks (who went off the boil in the second half of their Test against Italy) defeat two strong scrumming sides over the weekend, the Wallabies will be in dire trouble if their front line props and hookers aren’t available by the time the Tri-Nations Tests are played.
The improvement in the Wallaby scrum, though, was cancelled out by an unacceptable fall-off in the intensity of the Wallabies forward play in the rucks and mauls, and in their overall defensive play, which is usually a strong point in the team’s game.
It is a bit like a golfer with the yips with his putting getting this right and then finding that his driving game has turned sour.
Both England’s tries came from dreadful Wallaby defensive work.
Ben Youngs, a terrific Sevens Rugby player, scuttled from a short lineout when Dean Mumm ran straight for the number 10 and then swerved past James O’Connor for a telling try.
The try scored by Chris Ashton, a big, fast winger, also involved a missed tackle by O’Connor.
The dash for the try-line came after a long series of phases as England bashed away from one side of the field to another, until Ashton raced through near a maul to speed away for a great try.
England were too big for the Wallabies across the field.
They broke tackles and imposed themselves in the rucks and mauls. This size advantage was accentuated by the way England was able to slow down the game, generally when a scrum was going to be set, with runners in their blue shirts flooding on to the field (there seemed to be ten of them on the England bench!)
The point about all this is that this England side, aside from a couple of exceptions, would never pass a stringent skin-fold test. As one of the reserve props waddled on to the field, I remarked to the editors of The Roar sitting beside me: “He’s got the build of a darts player.”
These darts players were never subjected to the torture of having to run back and forward, across one way and then the other way, chasing backs and forwards moving the ball in hand quickly the way, say, the All Blacks tormented the big Wales pack so clinically and savagely at Carisbrook earlier in the night.
England were allow to dictate the pace of the game, through the stoppages system and the brain-dead kicking tactics of the Wallabies.
They kicked more in one half of this Test, make that one quarter of the Sydney Test, than they did in the entire 80 minutes ar Perth.
Why? Surely they weren’t under instructions.
And then there was the poor display from Will Genia, who was clearly affected by his strapped leg. Genia’s passing was not as crisp and long as we’ve come to expect. And then he compounded this by adopting the emperor penguin tactic of standing over the ball, as if he was trying to hatch it.
This business of letting the ball lie in the back of the ruck while a flat-line forward attack is being put into place is a complete nonsense, in my opinion. It allows the defence to re-group, settle and target the next runner.
I think I’ve seen only one try coming out of this slow-motion type of set-up.
So what was Genia doing?
Again, I find it hard to believe that he was playing to the instructions of his coach. I agree with some comments made yesterday on The Roar that Genia should have been hooked and Luke Burgess brought on to play, hopefully, in the manner he did at Perth and not how he played for the NSW Waratahs.
England got their victory, their first in Australia since 2003 and only their third in 16 Tests here since the first in 1963.
So this is a great achievement for Martin Johnson and his team, which included several promising younger players.
But this team cannot be compared in any way, across the positions, to Sir Clive Woodward’s side of 2003 which defeated the Wallabies at Melbourne and in the Rugby World Cup final. Woodward’s side, in my opinion, was the finest England side since 1870 and one of the great teams in the history of rugby.
Johnson’s team is overweight, not quick enough around the field, lacking in initiative in its tactics, and has its number 10 standing in the quarter back position most of the time. But like good dart players, they can be formidable if they allowed to perform their simple tactics and plays at the pace that suits them.
This gets us back to the Wallabies.
Again in The Roar there has been criticism of Rocky Elsom’s captaincy. He should have taken the shot at goal at the end of the game instead of opting for a five-metre lineout.
Always take the points is the golden rule of Test rugby.
But, more importantly, he failed to get his team to quicken up their play when he saw England intent on slowing down the game. The All Blacks did this against Wales, tapping and running penalties outside their 22.
They also moved the ball around quickly and ran back most of the kicks.
The result was that the Welsh forwards, a pack like England that has players with, how shall we say it in this PC age, generous proportions around their girth, was literally run off its feet.
Robbie Deans will have to toughen up the second row, get some mongrel into a revamped back row, toughen up the tackling, get quicker service from his halves and more running from his backs for next week’s Test against Ireland.
Heads will have to roll.
As he told reporters after the Test, the result and the way the two team’s played was “significant for both sides.”
Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.