Wallabies must keep winning after responding to fans’ message
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Australia's full back Berrick Barnes. AFP PHOTO/ADRIAN DENNIS
Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of the Wallabies’ 20-14 win over the flying purple people-eaters at Twickenham was that there were signs that the Wallabies might just be getting at least some of the messages coming from disgruntled supporters at home and abroad.
After the Wallabies were correctly pilloried by all and sundry for their lacklustre display against France, it’s great to be reading credit where it’s properly due.
However, I’ll first get a quick word on England’s kit out of the way.
I’d only just given them a rap for letting their new supplier, Canterbury, go back to the traditional England white jersey and shorts and navy socks kit.
After France’s new retro-styled adidas strip as well, it seemed the rugby world was going back to their roots (if you’ll ignore the All Blacks finally relenting on a sponsor).
But “Regal Purple” is just a horrendous step back to the dark old days of made-for-marketing, like anthracite, and black in New Zealand.
This was supposed to be a clash at the home of rugby between centuries-old colonial rivals, and we, as supporters and lovers of the game, deserved better than something more suited to a tired Wiggle. All jibes that I’ve read so far have been well made and are well deserved.
But I digress…
All last week, commentators, journos, bloggers, pundits, and rarely-pleased ex-pat former players were lining up to have their two cents on what went wrong in France, and very little of it was wide of the mark.
Andrew Logan spoke of the need in rugby “to win the contest at the collision point,” and overall, I’d say that if the Wallabies didn’t ‘win’ the collision, they certainly contested it a whole lot better than they did in Paris just a week before.
There were numerous examples of gold jerseys breaking the first tackle, and with that came a better second phase game in which the Wallabies’ eight offloads found support more often than has been the case in recent outings.
In fact, the Wallabies’ support game was much improved, and there were noticeably more bodies in motion.
As Nick Cummins went over for his try, you could see Kurtley Beale and Sitaleki Timani hovering in the background supporting the break-maker Nick Phipps, which in turn meant some of the covering defenders had to keep half and eye on them, too.
On the rare occasion that the Wallabies made a break in Paris, or for most of The Rugby Championship, the man in the clear often fought a lone battle.
The plaudits for Ben Tapuai in his first outing at inside centre have rightly flowed, and he certainly played a major part in creating the “line-bend, a point from which the team can attack on the front foot” that ‘Loges’ required of a no. 12 last week.
Again, the supporting bodies in motion and improved second phase play meant that Australia were much better equipped to take advantage of Tapuai’s good work.
One of David Lord’s ‘musts’ on Saturday was that “Wingers [Digby] Ioane and Nick Cummins must be given ball in hand with time and space, and not have to go searching for it,” and again, I reckon the Wallabies got this right.
It’s true that Ioane didn’t have the same impact that Cummins did, but the fact that both were regularly utilised as option runners meant that there was another dimension to the Australian attack.
Cummins was superb, for the record, and with every run I couldn’t help but think he’s going to be so much more dangerous in Super Rugby next season.
Nick Phipps was much better than his previous outing, and there hasn’t been and won’t be anywhere near as much gnashing of teeth that Brett Sheehan was again relegated to the role formerly mastered by Chris Whittaker. Phipps’ passing game still had its moments, but his decision-making looked better and he showed great vision to make the space in the lead-up to Cummins’ maiden Test try.
David Campese’s now-famous comment, that “Robbie Deans is destroying Australian rugby” is never going to be forgotten by just one win.
The major difference between the Wallabies’ display against England and most showings this year, is that while the game plan (and I use the word loosely) looked largely the same, the much-improved execution and basic skills of the players provided the platform for the win.
We may never know if this was a coaching or player-led advance, but the acknowledgement should be made regardless.
After being pantsed in Paris, I thought the Wallaby tight-five were excellent, and more than held their own against the English scrum that had (or was given) an expectation of 2005-vintage dominance.
It was nice to see former England International, Paul Ackford, writing in The Telegraph that their ability to “rebuild their scrummage and breakdown work, to play with real passion and imagination was praiseworthy indeed.”
Ackford’s ratings of the Ben(n)s Alexander and Robinson were only topped by the perfect ten he afforded Man of the Match, Michael Hooper, for whom he effused, “..had an extraordinary match in attack and defence. His work at the breakdown was exemplary and … [his] decision-making was spot on. He knew precisely when and how to apply the pressure without conceding penalties in dangerous positions.”
Beale and Berrick Barnes both had solid games, too, and appeared to feed off each other pretty well throughout. Barnes might not be quite as good a goal-kicker as Mike Harris, but I think he makes a better makeshift fullback.
The Wallaby defence in that last half hour was just something else, and highlighted the very character of the men that Deans has never doubted, if sometimes to a fault.
Once again, though, I find myself saying as I have done often in my time on The Roar, that the Wallabies cannot be judged on their last game now, but on their next.
The Wallabies have often found the Azzuri to be a tough opponent at home, perhaps most famously when Quade Cooper announced himself on the international stage in 2008.
With Italy coming off a 42-10 loss at the hands of New Zealand in Rome, they will be primed for another shot at the hot-and-cold Wallabies, and certainly the Australians cannot afford to lift the foot. A win in Florence will provide immense confidence as they head to Cardiff and chase eight straight wins against Wales.
More importantly, the Wallabies now have a chance to show they’re not always hot and cold, and are capable of stringing wins together. The thing about consistency, as another favourite saying goes, is that you have to do it all the time.
Brett McKay is a former non-tackling scrumhalf and not-quite-first-grade middle order stalwart. A rugby and cricket expert for The Roar since July 2009, Brett has written for Inside Rugby and Cricket Australia, and is also PLAY Canberra's rugby correspondent. He tweets from @BMcSport