Wallabies show what collective failure looks like
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Australian rugby union fans shelter from the rain. AAP Image/Paul Miller
There is an old saying about the facts speaking for themselves. This morning, they are both eloquent and condemnatory.
After 59 minutes of last night’s Wallabies v Scotland game in Newcastle, Wallabies No.8 Scott Higginbotham – working off a solid attacking 5m scrum – chose to run down a narrow blindside against the slight wheel of the set-piece and straight into the voracious Scotland back row.
Three minutes later, debutant Mike Harris was penalised for obstruction after a series of Wallabies attacks were repelled.
After 64 minutes, Australia botched a lineout drive and isolated captain David Pocock was blown up for holding on as Scotland’s replacement halfback, Chris Cusiter, attempted to rip the ball free.
In the 65th minute, Dave Dennis – a hearty contributor to the forward exchanges – was replaced by coach Robbie Deans for debutant Michael Hooper. Dennis had played in heavy conditions against the Hurricanes just three days previously as part of astonishingly unhelpful preparation window.
Almost immediately, a momentum shift in the scrum battle was perceptible. Australia’s left-hand side now consisted of James Slipper, who had played most of the Super season on the tight-head, replacement second-rower Rob Simmons and debutant Hooper. The most senior of that trio is 23, and they opposed seasoned tight-head Euan Murray, a British and Irish Lion.
Five minutes later, Australia were again penalised at the breakdown, with Digby Ioane hanging on to the ball with support slow to arrive – despite Scotland’s attack on the breakdown being signposted in neon before the game.
After 70 minutes, Dan Palmer, who had enjoyed a highly promising debut, was replaced by Ben Alexander, who took his place on the tight-head side, where he has served limited duty at the Brumbies this season. After two scrum collapses the Wallabies managed to clear the ball.
Two minutes later, Berrick Barnes skewed an attempted drop goal badly, hitting it wide right from about 30m from the sticks.
In the 75th minute, Harris connected horribly with a penalty on halfway and the ball hit the turf as it reached the posts. From the resulting re-start Barnes overcooked a bomb and Scotland took a mark inside their 22 to clear their lines.
Shortly afterwards, Harris launched a fateful, badly misjudged up-and-under inside his own 10m line that bounced beyond the Scotland in-goal area, bringing play all the way back to the same spot.
From the set-piece it was clear the visitors had sensed blood in the water. They drove the Australia scrum backwards by two metres before Slipper folded inwards, but referee Jaco Peyper’s call was play on.
After multiple phases against some passive defence, a misread on the right-hand side by another debutant, Joe Tomane, allowed Greig Laidlaw to make a half-break and the Scots advanced to the 22m.
From there, after the hooter had sounded, they set the scrums that decided the game.
The first one drove the Wallabies back three metres before they disintegrated and somehow avoided the penalty. But Peyper was just loading the bullet for the re-set.
Alexander has been named as the culprit for the next collapse in some dispatches, but the replay showed him to be still standing while Slipper, under immense pressure from Murray, had nowhere to go but down. Camera angles behind the set-piece revealed that culpability rested on other shoulders, too.
Hooper, showing the naivety of a newcomer, was a virtual non-contributor to the pushing effort, hanging off the side of the scrum in anticipation of a Scottish attack that was never going to come. Beside him, Simmons was caught horribly off balance by the initial hit and never recovered.
It was an grimly appropriate conclusion to a 21-minute spell in which saw the basics of Test rugby – ball security, kicking, set-piece – collapse one by one until only ruins remained.
As for the weather, it is a global game played in winter.
Besides, Australia had coped admirably in the opening 40.
None of the names mentioned above stand accused as individuals. From the sheer weight of errors it is clear this was a collective malfunction: a folly agreed to by the ARU, implemented (you sense with misgivings) by the coach and carried out by the players with deteriorating belief as the game wore on.
Congratulations to Scotland.
They are traditionally allocated the role of fighters, but the battle of the brain belonged to them as well. Australia were outwitted by the selection of dual opensides John Barclay and Ross Rennie.
For Australia, only misery.
Forget about the Wales series. Each Test should carry its own value. This is what abject failure looks like, pure and simple. Now the fans who pay the wages wait to see what accountability looks like.
Paul Cully is a freelance journalist who was born in New Zealand, raised in Northern Ireland, but spent most of his working life in Australia. He is a former Sun-Herald sports editor, rugby tragic, and current Roar and RugbyHeaven contributor.
Wallabes vs Wales - Scott Allen's match highlights -