Third Test: All aboard the Wallabies roller-coaster, again

Brett McKay Columnist

By Brett McKay, Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    Here we go again. The Wallabies’ exhilarating 50-23 win in Brisbane was followed in Melbourne by the now-customary lacklustre follow-up.

    It was, at least, a win. So many Wallabies sides in the recent past would’ve lot patience with a nil-nil halftime score, and shelled penalties and tries late in the game to lose by 15 or more.

    So on that front, there is some degree of positivity coming of the 6-0 result.

    Up, down. Up, down. Already it feels like the Wallabies of 2014 are treading a familiar path, and with it comes the familiar extreme reactions.

    ‘Outstanding’ they said after Brisbane. ‘This is a side to plan around,’ they said, with an eye to the future and willingness to dream that only comes with a big win over a more-than-useful international opponent.

    ‘Rubbish,’ they said a week later. ‘They’re all crap and should be dropped, especially that guy who was really good last week. Never rated him.’

    Honestly, if I hadn’t seen it every season for the last however many years, it would’ve been amusing.

    Like all good reactions after a loss, the style drew further rebuke. Ewen McKenzie’s ‘winning isn’t enough’ decree at the start of the international season was jumped on.

    ‘No wonder only 27,000 turned up,’ they said, as if the way the game was going to play out was known upfront and used in promotions.

    ‘How do they expect to grow they game playing like that?’ they asked, as if the here-and-now attention spans of the kiddies are so short that the slightest hint of hard work and things not happening like in the highlights reels will send them running to other endeavours.

    With the series done, and the growing cobwebs removed from the St Leonards cabinet to make way for an actual trophy, McKenzie has taken the opportunity to try some previously unused players in the third Test on Saturday afternoon in Sydney.

    Brumbies prop Scott Sio finally gets a spot on the bench, in place of Pek Cowan. After learning late last week that Sio had been fully fit the whole series, this is a welcome – if not overdue – move. Laurie Weeks keeps his bench spot, and fair enough.

    James Horwill comes back to the bench in place of last week’s debutant Luke Jones, who will almost certainly get another chance in gold this year. Likewise Scott Higginbotham, who drops out of the 23, with Ben McCalman coming back to the bench to cover backrow.

    Will Genia’s ankle surgery has given Nick Phipps a reprieve, and he holds his bench spot alongside Kurtley Beale. Their Waratahs teammate Rob Horne comes in for Pat McCabe, and though McCabe has been ruled out with a nerve compression injury in his shoulder, this wouldn’t have been an undeserving reward for Horne’s good Super Rugby form.

    Wycliff Palu is back at No.8, overcoming his minor injury as expected. Though McCalman tried valiantly in Melbourne, he just doesn’t bend the line like Palu does. If McCalman had, or could find a John Cartwright-style offload, he’d be an altogether different selection prospect. Until he does, a fit Palu will always win out.

    While I remain entirely unconvinced that Will Skelton is anywhere near ready for Test rugby, there’s probably no better opportunity to find out than in this match. McKenzie said this week that Skelton “has a big motor and is particularly skilful, so we’re looking forward to seeing how he will impose himself on the game,” and that’s all fair enough, even if the ‘big motor’ suggestion is a little generous.

    There’s no question of his skills, certainly. And he’ll give tighthead Sekope Kepu a level of oomph from behind that Kepu has never felt at Test level before. The obvious concern comes in the form of a depleted lineout and a breakdown presence that belies Skelton’s considerable size.

    Nevertheless, I look forward to being proved wrong and raving about a brilliant debut next week.

    And what of the French side? Which one will turn up, and what can we expect?

    There was talk earlier in the week of France wanting to finish the tour on a high in the Sydney sunshine, and Philippe Saint-Andre has hinted at that, even if he’s made few changes to his XV from Melbourne.

    Ball-carrying flanker Fulgence Ouedraogo comes in at No.7, with Thierry Dusautoir shifting to the opposite side of the scrum. Fullback in Brisbane, Hugo Bonneval brings his speed and finishing ability on the wing in place of Maxime Medard, who didn’t see a lot of action in the second Test.

    The Wallabies should certainly be expecting the same breakdown contest they encountered in Melbourne, but they should also be readying themselves for more questions of their defensive line from first phase. We never really saw much of Mathieu Basteraud with the ball under his arm, but it should absolutely be expected in Sydney. If Matt Toomua didn’t buy those shoulder pads he joked about last week, it might not be such a silly idea this week.

    If the cycle is to continue, then we should be readying ourselves for another big climb on the roller coaster, and a wonderful win to complete the France series clean-sweep.

    Even if we know that means we might be in for more hand-wringing by the first Bledisloe.

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.

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    The Crowd Says (140)

    • Roar Guru

      June 20th 2014 @ 6:48am
      Who Needs Melon said | June 20th 2014 @ 6:48am | ! Report

      Fully agree with all that boom to bust stuff. It’s a bit crazy.

      And agree with everything else as well. But I think Will will pleasantly surprise you this weekend. Regardless of all his other physical pros and cons I think his head will be in the right place – I don’t think he will be overawed and will want to rip in and show his stuff.

      Wallabies by 10+

      • June 20th 2014 @ 9:08am
        Paul said | June 20th 2014 @ 9:08am | ! Report

        Yep, Will does have a big motor, but it does have to push a monster truck around. If we get a powerful 50 minutes out of him I’ll consider it a job well done on debut, then bring on Horwill to finish the game off

      • Columnist

        June 20th 2014 @ 9:49am
        Brett McKay said | June 20th 2014 @ 9:49am | ! Report

        Cheers Melon. Skelton’s clearly improved over the course of his Super Rugby experience, and I’ve no doubt he’ll have a long Wallabies career if he wants it. I guess I’m just a bit conservative when it comes to promoting kids before they really deserve it. I’ve got the same thoughts about Kyle Godwin, for what it’s worth..

        • June 20th 2014 @ 10:03am
          Fair go said | June 20th 2014 @ 10:03am | ! Report

          Fair calls on the selections Brett. But the roller coaster in this case is France. The first game was loose at the breakdown and poor in the defensive line. Last week they fixed both.
          I reckon the WBs had it all over them last week and hopefully learned a few things about tight games. (Intelligent use of boot, avoidance if dopey penalties:errors on attack).
          I also think too many commentators are ignoring the progress. We have a pack that applies pressure across the park and we have a back line that is functioning well. Plus great stocks in the squad. The bench pressure is enough without a lot of emotive wailing in my humble opinion.

        • June 20th 2014 @ 1:47pm
          mick said | June 20th 2014 @ 1:47pm | ! Report

          Kyle Godwin is extremely overrated thats why, Skelton at least shows some promise and now this will lock him in for Australia…lol as you know apparently the kiwis were chasing. Jones is the other overrated, he cant and I dont think will ever make the step up(how id love to be proved wrong), yet has got a go?? Skelton is far less risky and a long term wallaby compared with the others. We will get smashed in the Bledisloe, no doubt.

          Being a Qld Jake White fan, I never wanted Ewen to be Wallabies coach…yep I go for the mighty reds! But EMac will have to earn his pay this year, im looking forward to the excuses.

        • June 20th 2014 @ 3:58pm
          Daz said | June 20th 2014 @ 3:58pm | ! Report

          Brett as they say in league if you’re good enough you’re old enough. Close your eyes and imagine you’re running around in SR giving it your all, playing well week in week out but knowing your good form won’t be rewarded for years to come. Full marks to McKenzie for giving a few newbies a crack and proving he will select on form. Some will not be brilliant on debut but all will be better players for the experience. Just the same I would have blooded Skelton from the bench and told him to unleash havoc in the last twenty.

          • June 20th 2014 @ 4:56pm
            Daz said | June 20th 2014 @ 4:56pm | ! Report

            Brett as they say in league if you’re good enough you’re old enough. Close your eyes and imagine you’re running around in SR giving it your all, playing well week in week out but knowing your good form won’t be rewarded for years to come. Full marks to McKenzie for giving a few newbies a crack and proving he will select on form. Some will not be brilliant on debut but all will be better players for the experience. Just the same I would have blooded Skelton from the bench and told him to unleash havoc in the last twenty.

            Folau made his debut for the Kangaroos at 18 against our mortal enemies, the kiwis. He scored two tries in a 58-0 drubbing against one of the sides that encapsulates everything that is evil in the footie world. I mean what country chooses black, the colour of the witching hour as it’s national colour?

            • June 20th 2014 @ 6:28pm
              Garth said | June 20th 2014 @ 6:28pm | ! Report

              Because we’re a nation of Goths, obviously. Although we tend to reserve the Dark Arts (Sports) for rugby union and select sports-persons in other codes.

    • June 20th 2014 @ 6:59am
      Rexthegod said | June 20th 2014 @ 6:59am | ! Report

      Hi Brett – you’re the most relaxed of the Roar writers and a pleasure to read (pay me later). Nobody’s ever really explained “test rugby” except to say it’s faster and there’s more pressure repping your country. The big guy is young enough to shrug off the pressure and as a lock shouldn’t be bothered by the faster part. I think he’s going to be great on Saturday. I just hope he doesn’t kill the child as the Monster did.

      I don’t think PSA has enough of a choice. He’s dropped Nyanga in favour of Ouedraogo who fractured his hand in the Montpellier/Toulouse game and is short of match practice. He certainly didn’t get much in Brisbane. Too bad because when he’s healthy it would be between he and Hooper for world’s fastest 7.

      Not sure about the other monster, Bastareaud. Stu Barnes says he’s really an inside center and defends like one at 13. He’s not quick but the WBs can’t let him get up any momentum.

      I’m predicting that Folau will score a try. If the backline had Toomua at 10, Beal at 12 and AAC at 13 he’d score two tries.

      • Columnist

        June 20th 2014 @ 9:52am
        Brett McKay said | June 20th 2014 @ 9:52am | ! Report

        Well thanks Rex. There’s more than enough ranting on The Roar without me adding to it!

        I have to admit I expected more change from PAS, so you might be right about the lack of proper choice. And Basteraud played at 12 mostly in Melbourne anyway, despite wearing 13. I agree with your thoughts on closing off his space though, and the Wallabies do that through Toomua moving up quickly on him. Of course, they also need to cut off his offload options, too.

        I actually think this game will be pretty open. The pressure of the series result will have been released, and both teams can play with a bit of freedom – and they’ve both good strike power across the park, so I expect the dry track and sunshine to bring it out..

      • June 20th 2014 @ 9:53am
        Mango Jack said | June 20th 2014 @ 9:53am | ! Report

        Folau is more likely to score with Foley at 10. Beale holds on to it too often.

        • June 20th 2014 @ 11:49am
          jameswm said | June 20th 2014 @ 11:49am | ! Report

          Who has more assists on Folau’s tries for the Tahs this season? I think you’ll find it’s Beale.

          • Roar Guru

            June 20th 2014 @ 4:37pm
            Cadfael said | June 20th 2014 @ 4:37pm | ! Report

            I agree but Beale playing a position out from first five give him more room to set up Folau.

    • June 20th 2014 @ 7:12am
      bigbaz said | June 20th 2014 @ 7:12am | ! Report

      I’m just wondering who “they” are.

      • Columnist

        June 20th 2014 @ 9:53am
        Brett McKay said | June 20th 2014 @ 9:53am | ! Report

        Have you read “1984”, Baz?

        • June 20th 2014 @ 9:55am
          Johnno said | June 20th 2014 @ 9:55am | ! Report

          Wasn’t that a book on the LA Olympic’s Brett.

    • June 20th 2014 @ 7:13am
      Crash Ball2 said | June 20th 2014 @ 7:13am | ! Report

      As a former back (who admittedly seems to increasingly resemble a former forward as the years roll on), I’ll admit my knowledge of the set piece dark arts is scant. Brett, you allude to Skelton’s impact in the scrum – and undoubtedly as a big unit he has significant weight to lend – is his scrummaging technique making full use of his bulk?

      • Roar Guru

        June 20th 2014 @ 9:24am
        jeznez said | June 20th 2014 @ 9:24am | ! Report

        I’m concerned the scrum may not be as good as it has been. Will is big but I have seen scrums pressured with him at THL. Technique is hard to gauge on locks from the camera angles we usually get on scrums on TV but there have been a few times the Tahs have been exposed with him.

        Hopefully I am wrong and the big fella has a blinder.

        • June 20th 2014 @ 9:31am
          bigbaz said | June 20th 2014 @ 9:31am | ! Report

          I’d reckon jeznez as long as the big fella locks up ‘he’d be pretty hard to move.

      • Columnist

        June 20th 2014 @ 9:54am
        Brett McKay said | June 20th 2014 @ 9:54am | ! Report

        Crash, his technique certainly makes some use of his bulk, but whether it’s full use is probably harder to measure. The Tahs scrum – and Kepu and Paddy Ryan in particular – have had some issue this year, but I honestly couldn’t say whether those issues have been with Skelton on or not. Fair to say I’ll be watching closely tomorrow..

      • June 20th 2014 @ 10:29am
        PiratesRugby said | June 20th 2014 @ 10:29am | ! Report

        As a former second rower let me just caution against seeing Will’s bulk as the answer to everything. Firstly, the biggest props I pushed weren’t the best. In fact the best prop I pushed was a 95kg army truck driver. I only weighed 90kg. We never got pushed back. Some of the 140kg props melted like butter. Some of the 7ft second rowers couldn’t get their technique right and buckled. Secondly, he’s slow and runs out of puff – even more than the usual lazy Tah forward. Thirdly, hes so big he’s no longer a viable line out option nor is he likely to steal a line out.
        So what do you get from big Will? It seems to be as a runner with ball in hand drawing defenders. If he can offload then we’ve got some fast forwards and faster backs who can slice any team open. In defence he’s no more than merely competent. He doesn’t monster the opposition.
        It’s all pretty one dimensional really.

        • June 20th 2014 @ 11:10am
          DMac said | June 20th 2014 @ 11:10am | ! Report

          I disagree about his defense. He does monster the opposition, watch out for some big hits on Saturday. He’s also brilliant at disrupting the driving mall.

          I think the TH side scrum problems at the Tahs have been due to Ryan. I haven’t seen Kepu in trouble – I said before the first test that I had no concerns about him in the scrum and I think that’s been vindicated so far. To be honest I’m not sure why Cheika keeps starting him from the bench

          • June 20th 2014 @ 11:37am
            Hopperdoggy said | June 20th 2014 @ 11:37am | ! Report

            Coz Potgeiter is a hard ar$ed mongrel SOB. If only you could merge PG and big Willy.

            Ouchie Mana!

            • June 20th 2014 @ 1:58pm
              dmac said | June 20th 2014 @ 1:58pm | ! Report

              Sorry, meant ‘I’m not sure why Cheika keeps starting Kepu from the bench’.

          • June 20th 2014 @ 11:52am
            jameswm said | June 20th 2014 @ 11:52am | ! Report

            I’ve seen Skelton monster the opposition may times this season.

            What about the mauls he stops?

            Usual lazy Tah forward? They’re doing pretty well for a team with lazy forwards this season, aren’t they?

        • June 20th 2014 @ 1:55pm
          Zero Gain said | June 20th 2014 @ 1:55pm | ! Report

          Players of equal ability: bigger = better.

    • June 20th 2014 @ 7:48am
      The Electronic Swagman said | June 20th 2014 @ 7:48am | ! Report

      The French did take the All Blacks to 7-6 in the World Cup final at Eden Park. I thank the Roar and particularly Scott Allen for giving an old ex-half back greater appreciation of forward play and the intricacies of the game beyond sparkling play.

      • June 22nd 2014 @ 11:55am
        Campbell Watts said | June 22nd 2014 @ 11:55am | ! Report

        8 to 7 actually

    • June 20th 2014 @ 7:53am
      Mad Dutchman said | June 20th 2014 @ 7:53am | ! Report

      I’m not convinced you’ve watched enough Waratahs rugby this season if you think big Will is poor at the breakdown. I can think of several occasions where two and three players tried to shift him off the ball and couldn’t. And the opposite is also true – he would drive through 2-3 players and kick their ball out of the ruck. Maybe not traditional breakdown work but very effective!
      … Not to mention the ball-ripping off the ball carrier and one of his key positives – his (single-handed) maul defence!

      • June 20th 2014 @ 11:10am
        DMac said | June 20th 2014 @ 11:10am | ! Report

        Agree.

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