Heart, Beale and Hooper may save Deans
108 Have your say
Wallabies fly half Kurtley Beale (R) is tackled by Pumas lock Patricio Albacete (L) and Juan Manuel Leguizamon during Australia's 25-19 Rugby Championship win over Argentina at Rosario on October 6, 2012. (AFP / Juan Mabromata)
After a week of soul-searching and patch-ups from the touring party, and a massive sharpening of knives at home, a new-look Wallabies ultimately overcame a willing although hapahazard Argentina in Rosario 25-19.
A spine-tingling anthem from the Argentinian crowd farewelled 35yo prop Rodrigo Roncero, but Los Pumas lacked punch in the early stages of the match and allowed a grateful Wallaby team to settle into a pattern of sorts.
The settled look was due in no small part to reborn flyhalf Kurtley Beale who showed his hand early by standing flat and taking on the defensive line. Beale with ball in hand is always dangerous and he stated his case here.
In turn, Timani, Sharpe and Higginbotham were belligerent in the loose, keeping their feet when required, and blasting the Argentinians off the ball on the ground to give Phipps a chance to set the ball away.
For occasional moments, we got a chance to see the traditional Wallaby style of ball-in-hand rugby, a style which was lamented by Wallaby Julian Huxley in an excellent analysis piece earlier in the week.
Huxley noted the lack of accumulated passes in the Springbok Test and it was as if the Wallabies had read the memo, as they made every effort to move the ball about and chance their arm.
It was just the stuff to gratify their jaded supporters at home, and had it come off more often, the clattering of pitchforks and roar of burning torches may have subsided somewhat.
Unfortunately the twin evils of an over-zealous referee and poor handling obliterated any chance the game had of becoming a memorable spectacle.
I’ll concede that Craig Joubert is a technically excellent referee. He knows the laws and it is rare that he is caught with a technically sloppy performance in the manner of say, an Alain Rolland.
But in this way he’s like a parking cop who books a mother with a pram and three kids for overstaying her spot by a minute. Someone should tell Joubert that just because you’re right doesn’t mean you’re right.
He insists on blowing up every infringement he sees, regardless of the effect it may have on the game, or the context in which it occurs.
His pedantic penalty against Australia for going off their feet when they were attacking, Argentina was not contesting, and the ball was sitting at the back of the ruck under Phipps’ hands, showed everything which is wrong with his style.
During one goal kick, when the laser-pest briefly rested on Joubert instead of Harris, a wag remarked “Perhaps he’s trying to melt the whistle”. If only.
The pernickety Joubert doesn’t attract charitable notions. The only thing one could say is that despite his obvious intention to blow the game to a standstill if it didn’t go his way, the players for their part didn’t take the initiative.
Argentina particularly tried several times to spoil the Wallabies ball by loitering over the tackled player and sleazing in on the side, but they lacked the masterful subtlety and the smart choice of moment of the All Blacks. It was like a bad dancer who had seen an Astaire movie and was now trying to glide-step over a tipping chair. It’s only ever going to end badly.
And of course, Joubert wasn’t responsible for the noxious handling which infected both sides. Passing was generally pedestrian, but catching was in the sewer. Atrocious doesn’t begin to describe it. Punishing might be a better synonym.
The humidity didn’t help and Nathan Sharpe remarked after the match at how wet the ball was. Radike Samo, whose hands are as big as laundry baskets, dropped one kickoff cold and juggled a couple more. Nick Cummins lost a kickoff despite some impressive aerial commitment. Ben Tapuai turned over a couple of balls with agricultural skills. But the real pity has to be reserved for the wretched Digby Ioane.
After near self-immolation at his display against the Springboks, Ioane vowed to make amends against Argentina but, if possible, he was worse. After 50 minutes, he had five drops against his name and his confidence had deserted him entirely.
He finished by going into contact with only one thought in mind – “hold the ball” – and was a sad sight surrendering in the tackle. You couldn’t help but feel for one of the Wallabies’ best players of the last two years.
However, when he finally managed to catch one, it was to latch onto a sweet little nut from Beale who was taking every one of his few chances to test the defence.
With Beale standing wide off a scrum 30 metres out, and McCabe drifting away across field, Tapuai ran a slashing and extreme unders line back towards his forwards to fix the defence.
Marcelo Bosch at 13 for Argentina held tight to his fellow centre Santiago Fernandez, but eventually could ignore the drifting McCabe no longer and turned his hips a fraction outwards. Fernandez, on Bosch’s inside, made an ineffectual dive in the opposite direction at the decoy Tapuai.
Ioane momentarily stepped out of his nightmare and roared through the resultant gap like a nitro-fuelled dragster to score under the posts.
The Ioane try was preceded by a period of truly magnificent Wallaby defence on their own line. People say a lot of things about this Wallaby side. They say their skills are sometimes suspect, they spend too much time on their Xboxes and Twitter and that a couple of them wouldn’t qualify under the Sydney Swans recruitment policy.
Those things are sometimes hard to argue, but for anyone who doubts the heart of this particular lineup, just watch this series of phases at 60 minutes, on hostile soil, against a home crowd wielding lasers and against an Argentine side bent on their first Rugby Championship win, with the score at 15-12.
The game was in the balance, but Sharpe, Hooper and Robinson all repelled raids with hard-shouldered tackling, and when the ball finally went wide, debutant Cummins flattened an Argy back and the tireless Higginbotham made the essential cover tackle to shut it down.
It was the sort of ticker that Wallabies fans demand, and appreciate, and they will never mind a loss if it is accompanied by such wholehearted commitment to the cause. As forwards coach Andrew Blades said after the match “We were very proud of their commitment” and he has every reason to be.
Indeed, several players laid claim to incumbency status. David Pocock for instance, having seen off the maestro George Smith, must be feeling suddenly odd at the idea that he in turn, is being pressured by the incredible form of his replacement Michael Hooper.
Hooper simply did not stop. His aerobic fitness is beyond normal human limits and his speed from a lineout steal after 50 minutes of rugby made him look ridiculously fresh.
Indeed, he put a great rushing shot on an Argentine back at 77 minutes when the game was effectively over. His heart and willingness is of inestimable value.
Higginbotham for once used his bulk and athleticism to good effect and chose his moments well. Harris, for some a lamentable selection at fullback, showed the value of building a score through a reliable kicker. The metronome of points gives sides a rare confidence in tough games.
McCabe held up the midfield and whilst not flashy, is as consistent as the tide. He must be a joy to play alongside, if not always to watch.
Beale of course, when given the ball with space and time, showed that he is in all probability a better flyhalf than his flaky henchman Quade Cooper.
While both have quicksilver moments of true genius, Beale picks his moments better and his defence is genuine Test quality. What an odd feeling it must be to know that the better you play, the more likely it is that one of your good mates is out of a job.
Finally, the debutant Nick Cummins had limited opportunities and dropped one kickoff cold, although he was jarred in the air, which may not have helped. Despite this his defence was tough and he had the air of a man who actually gets better with the step up in quality.
I have no scientific basis for saying this, and I’ll probably be laughed out of the joint, but a strange instinct tells me that Test football will be the making of Cummins, and the Wallabies could do a lot worse than persevere with him. Rob Egerton was a similar talisman for the Wallabies of 1991.
So what does all this mean for the Wallabies, and more to the point, Robbie Deans? Pardon the analogy, but Deans must be feeling like the daggy sheep at the back of the mob. Bitten by the dogs, butted by the rams, pushed along by the farmer and harassed on all sides, he must be wondering exactly what he has to do to get some sort of a break.
Few people believe that Deans should be in charge for the Spring Tour. Even fewer think he is the man to take the Wallabies through to the Lions series next year. Certainly the man himself must be exhausted by the Sword of Damocles constantly hanging over his head.
But this win shows that Camp Wallaby is at its best when its back is to the wall, which in turn suggests that the players must share some of the blame. After all, had they held some more ball in this Test, there was enough of a pattern to suggest that they know what to do and that a strategy exists. Their set piece try was excellent quality.
Deans has often been legitimately criticized for his selections, not the least of which was his fatal gamble in taking a single specialist open-side to the World Cup. One wonders how much he is now paying the price for selecting first the navel-gazing individualist Cooper, and then the clearly gunshy and kick-happy Barnes, in the drivers seat for most of the last two years.
Whatever his logic then, the welcome arrival of Wallaby ticker, Michael Hooper and Kurtley Beale may perhaps have bought him just a little more time.
Wallabes vs Wales - Scott Allen's match highlights -
Watch Ashes Day 2 Video Highlights - Produced by The Roar
Video produced by Matt Watson for The Roar.
Andrew Logan has played rugby for over 25 years. A contributor to The Roar since its inception, he also writes for Inside Rugby magazine, and Super Rugby and international match day programs. A regular panellist on ABC Grandstand discussing rugby and other sports, Andrew has appeared on ABC's The Drum and also Sky Sportsline. He has convened and managed several touring sides including the Australian Rugby Sevens team on the IRB circuit, and the Australian Barbarians XV.