Wallabies: Not pretty at times, but a win’s a win…
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Wallabies player Radike Samo drops the ball on the tryline during the Rugby Union International between Australia and Argentina at Skilled Park on the Gold Coast (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
The best way of looking at the Wallabies’ 23-19 win over Argentina? It could and probably should have been a whole lot better, but as we’ve seen over the last month, it could’ve been a whole lot worse, too.
And with that in mind, there probably isn’t a whole lot of point in trying to paint this game as the win that gets the Wallabies back on track, because there’s plainly a lot of work to do still.
Likewise, there’s not much point sinking the boot in either, because there was still plenty to like.
It was one of those games where for just about every positive you can draw from the result, there’s something not so flash to cancel it out. However, a win is a win.
Yet even in saying this, I still found it an enjoyable game to watch, which judging by comments made since, is not necessarily a universal opinion.
A repeat viewing on Sunday confirmed my position, and indeed, the second half contained some of the more enjoyable rugby played so far in The Rugby Championship.
The Wallaby locks ran out with 110 Tests between them, and even by halftime, it was hard to believe that one of them was playing in his first.
Kane Douglas really did have the Boy’s Own debut, getting lineout touches early, putting on some absolute bell-ringing tackles in defence, and provided quality running and ruck involvement all night.
You always hope a debutant finds his feet, but Douglas went better than that; he looked like he belonged.
The Wallabies will lose some invaluable experience in the locking department in 2012, but Douglas’ first outing provides confidence that there’s another young guy ready to the take the next step.
The Wallaby backs looked a whole lot more adventurous than they have in the last month, and though they both produced errors throughout the game, the credit for this adventure must go to rookie scrumhalf Nick Phipps and flyhalf Quade Cooper.
Phipps did everything asked of him on the night, plus a few things that weren’t, and in general did everything quickly and crisply.
There was no evident standing over the ball in his game, and his service to Cooper was solid for the most part. Yes, his box kicks were terrible at times, but he got to the ruck quickly, and showed some good vision to set up Digby Ioane’s match-winning try.
Pat McCabe was solid in midfield, and despite the preconceived ideas about his passing game still being expressed in the post-mortems, it was interesting to see how often he became the focal point of set-plays inside Los Pumas’ half.
The fact that Cooper looked to play with width for the most part was pleasing though, and this in turn brought out the running games of Adam Ashley-Cooper, young flyer Dom Shipperley, and deserved man-of-the-match Ioane.
If Cooper does find top form again in 2012, we may well look back on this game as the point where things started again for him. Again, he wasn’t flawless, but he is asking questions of the defence again, and the Wallabies are better for it.
On that topic, similar could be said of Kurtley Beale. It was a small thing in the context of his season, but nailing a penalty goal like he did in the last few minutes could well be the spark that sees the confidence flooding back.
The scrum held its own in the first half, but not so much in the second half, where it wasn’t just towelled up, it copped the full linen press.
Ben Alexander, again, seemed to be on the receiving end of a front row master class from a well-experienced opponent, though perhaps this just shows that Rodrigo Roncero is still one of the best scrummaging props in world rugby.
Kicking down the throat of receivers remains an annoying habit, and you’d truly think that after playing the All Blacks and Springboks – both teams more than well equipped when it comes to fielding clearing kicks – that the penny might drop at some point.
It would seem to me that either the kicks need to be targeted toward space more, or if there’s none, the chase needs to be more concerted with a view to creating a contest. Otherwise, it’s just handing the ball over, and you’ll rarely win games without the ball.
I have to ask the question about Benn Robinson, too. If Robinson’s only good for 40 minutes per Test across two stints, and with a 40+ minute break between said stints, is that truly acceptable for the supposed best loosehead in the country?
This whole ‘tactical substitution’ rort has a bad smell about it, too, and the trial of the extra bench prop cannot come soon enough, in this former scrumhalf’s humble opinion.
So if someone like Greg Holmes truly is out of the picture, the question then becomes is it time for James Slipper to start with Alexander (preferred positions notwithstanding), with Robinson coming on for the last half hour?
In fact, is Robinson doing enough to hold a place at all?
The heart of the matter
The fact remains that Argentina are a quality side, and indeed, the Wallabies are the third side of three to find out the hard way that Los Pumas aren’t in The Rugby Championship just to make up the numbers.
Suggestions that they will win the comp by 2014 might seem far-fetched, but certainly couldn’t be discounted on the form they’ve shown. They’ll rate their chances against the Wallabies in Rosario later this month, but they might also fancy their chances of taking some points away from the somewhat erratic All Blacks in La Plata, too.
So yes, the Wallabies were a bit off, and yes, there’s still room for a lot of improvement. A lot of room, if we’re honest. Heaps of room. No shortage of room, whatsoever.
In reality, the Wallabies played about as well as Argentina allowed them to. Australia played well enough to win on the night, but let’s not discount the quality of the opposition in what was a pretty hard-fought win.
That said, while it wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t quite the horror show being painted in some quarters, either.
Brett McKay is a former non-tackling scrumhalf and not-quite-1st Grade middle order stalwart. A rugby and cricket expert for The Roar since July 2009 (having joined in Sept 2008), Brett has written for Inside Rugby and Cricket Australia, and is also PLAY Canberra's rugby correspondent. He tweets from @BMcSport