Horses for courses if Wallabies are to win the Rugby Championship
Super Rugby form is not usually a good guide to Test Rugby form. However, while we can look back to the June internationals, trying to identify clues from Super Rugby is probably our best current guide to the coming international season.
The poor performances of the Australian Super sides see most people writing off the chances of the Wallabies in the upcoming Rugby Championship.
I think based on form the All Blacks and Springboks are correctly seen as the sides most likely to win the Championship but there are opportunities for Australia if they can seize them.
If Australia is to be successful in their campaign, I think they will need to select teams specifically to beat their opponents.
Ideally Australia would have its own brand of rugby and implement it without fear or favour of the opposition but given our current position, I think we do need to select horses for courses.
There are a few games from this Super season which I think Deans should be looking at. Let’s review the performances of the Aussie sides against South Africa first.
The key games that hold positives for Australia were the Waratahs beating the Sharks and the narrow losses by the Waratahs and Rebels to the Bulls.
The ones that should hold warnings on the negatives are the Sharks elimination of the Reds in the finals, the Stormers comfortably controlling the Waratahs and the large lead held by the Bulls over the Brumbies before some late scores added respectability.
The Waratahs and Rebels were two of the weaker performers from Australia but managed respectable performances against strong South African sides, with one win and two close losses. All three of these games were in Australia so they must be tempered, but I think it is notable that these two sides have size and power in their tight five compared to the other Aussie sides.
The locks, in particular Sitaleki Timani, Kane Douglas and Caderyn Neville are all 120kg plus. In the Rebels match, along with Hugh Pyle, they had a third second rower Luke Jones playing at blindside.
If Australia purely try to match the size and dynamism of the South Africans they will fail, however they will have to go some way to countering fire with fire. A strong set piece and an ability to contest the breakdown with similar numbers will be key.
The Sharks highlighted this by only needing to commit two or three men to dominate the breakdown against the Reds. The Reds consistently put more men into the rucks and still couldn’t guarantee possession and wound up short in defence.
Similarly, when playing well, the Bulls are able to control the breakdowns with few men, stand large forwards out in the line to hit up and gain quick forward momentum. Matching these guys will likely require a full game from Sharpe with a high intensity match fairly evenly split between Sitaleki Timani and Kane Douglas.
A few Roarers have expressed disappointment that Caderyn Neville was the last second rower sent home. He still needs to fine tune his breakdown work and control his body height better.
Timani needs to keep his feet better, stop flopping and not get caught lounging in the backs.
Douglas in the last two weeks of the Super tournament started to show glimpses of what he is capable and I think with the injury to Horwill will be key this season.
The New Zealand matches that gave us insight in how to combat the All Blacks would be the Reds defeat of the Chiefs, the Brumbies defeat of the Hurricanes along with the near miss by the Reds against the Crusaders.
The Waratahs v Hurricanes, Waratahs v Highlanders and Brumbies v Blues were blue prints in how to lose to the New Zealand sides.
The matches where Australian sides competed well by either beating or pushing in form Kiwi opposition saw great industry at the breakdown. This was less about having one or two powerful players controlling a space and more about getting numbers to the contact zone for long periods of time.
The games the Aussie sides lost badly really highlighted packs that were either unable to get those numbers in the contest or didn’t turn up with the right mentality to win.
The All Blacks have dominated for so long that there is a self-imposed pressure on Australian sides when they face them. Quade Cooper’s implosion at the World Cup is probably the most spectacular example of this.
However Australian sides have shown in glimpses during the season that they can compete. The Reds proved it when winning the Super competition last year and the Wallabies confirmed it in Suncorp when claiming the last Tri-Nations trophy.
Sporadic performances will not be enough though and that hardnosed aggression and constant work as displayed in the positive performances I mention above will be key if the Wallabies are to have a chance at winning.
In these games I think Rob Simmons will have to come into the second row, Dave Dennis may be an additional lock reserve. Certainly playing both of Timani and Douglas in these games looks likely to be a recipe for loss and at most, only one should be selected.
It is against New Zealand that Greg Holmes’s omission from the squad is likely to be most detrimental. The absence of Brad Thorn has reduced the scrum power of Owen Franks. Holmes is in good enough form to compete effectively at the scrum against this opposition. His work around the ground is a cut above Robinson’s at the moment and should be recognised.
James Slipper would be my choice at reserve prop against all opposition in this tournament. I’d pick Robinson to start against the Springboks and Argentina, while picking Holmes to start against New Zealand. With the injuries at tighthead out there, Sekope Kepu will have to play a lot of minutes in this tournament.
As Argentina are the side Australia know the least about, they will be the team the Wallabies will have to pick their all-around side against. I’ll be interested to see which pack it looks more like. My hope that it is the heavier pack that can match the Sprinboks but just having done a bit more fitness than it has lately.
There are plenty of other articles out there focussed on who the back line selections should be so I’ll let those speak for themselves.
I think we’ll need to pick slightly different packs to combat specific opponents in this tournament. I doubt Robbie Deans agrees with me but I will certainly be watching these battles with interest. What do you think?
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