The grand slam: Don’t dream, it’s over

Brett McKay Columnist

By , Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    There is freedom within, there is freedom without
    Try to catch the deluge in a paper cup

    Coming on the same weekend that legendary Australian band Crowded House reunited for a series of sold out concerts on the steps of the Sydney Opera House – 20 years on from their original break-up concert at the same venue – it was ‘only natural’ that the lyrics to Don’t Dream it’s Over would arrive front of mind as the Wallabies dropped their first game of the Spring Tour.

    The 27-24 loss to Ireland also means I can now use the words, ‘Grand Slam’ in a sentence this month; something I’ve very deliberately avoided up until this point.

    Though the early wins on tour certainly meant the Grand Slam was possible, this kind of reporting after the Wales and Scotland results made me cringe. To me, this highlighted a tendency to clutch at any kind of possible success for the Wallabies in 2016, when in all reality, the Grand Slam was still a long way off.

    When you go through a rough trot like the Wallabies have this year, I suppose you will grab onto whatever you can.

    In truth, the Grand Slam could only ever have been lost against Wales and Scotland, not won. And though it could only ever be completed against England next weekend, I had always thought that the Ireland game would be where the Grand Slam would be truly won.

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    But the dream is now over for this tour, with Ireland pulling out an incredible last-ditch effort to confirm the result their dominant first half display demanded.

    In the closing moments, the point was made that Ireland have now beaten the three southern hemisphere superpowers, and this certainly can’t be understated. Beating South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia in the same season is every bit as difficult as beating all four of the Home Unions, and Ireland deserve all the praise coming their way currently.

    Overcoming the injury toll they endured in-game as they did, and to maintain scrum dominance throughout the game and breakdown parity at the very least showed the huge character this Irish side has within them.

    In that first half, it really did feel like the Wallabies were trying to catch the Irish attacking deluge in a paper cup. Try as they might to get their hands on the ball in the first forty, the Wallabies always managed to find themselves on the wrong side of the laws, or rueing yet another handling error.

    And though Ireland enjoyed a clear territory and possession advantage in the first half, the Wallabies’ defence forced plenty of mistakes. Indeed, when Paddy Jackson kicked his first penalty goal to open the scoring in the 17th minute, Ireland had already squandered at least three attempted lineout raids on the Australian try line.

    On the half hour, a stat graphic popped up on screen that showed the extent of both Ireland dominance with the ball, and the effectiveness of the Wallabies’ defence.

    Ireland to that point had carried the ball three times as much as the Wallabies (65 to 22 carries), yet hadn’t made double the metres (195m to 100m). And whereas the Wallabies were making the gain line with nearly every second carry, for Ireland it was every two and a half carries. Ireland had won five turnovers to the Wallabies’ three to this same point.

    Yet the score was only 10-0. Both teams would score a converted try each in the last six or so minutes of the first half, but the Wallabies would’ve been thrilled to be only trailing by ten points, given the sheer one-sidedness of the possession and territory stats in the first half.

    From memory, the Wallabies didn’t win another turnover for the game; no doubt this would become a contributing factor as they battled to put Ireland away properly once they brought the territory and possession back to something of an even keel through the second half.

    So, while the result will sting the Wallabies this week leading into the England game – and worse, now the Eddie Jones barbs have started – they should take a lot of confidence out of the loss to an incredibly resilient Irish side.

    The Wallabies saw their chance to attack the depleted and makeshift Ireland defence on the edges and found immediate success. Had their execution matched their eagerness in the first twenty minutes of the second half, they could well have been leading by more than just the one point they’d managed to claw ahead by the hour.

    After seeing so little ball in the first half, by the 60th minute the Wallabies had enjoyed 74 per cent of the ball after oranges, and scored 14 points to 3.

    Michael Cheika was right to be pleased with the amount of rugby his side played in the game with so little ball, and if not for conceding nearly twice as many turnovers as Ireland, they had plenty of opportunity to win the game.

    “Don’t dream, it’s over” certainly applies to the 2016 Grand Slam, but if you remove the comma, “don’t dream it’s over” equally applies to the direction this Wallabies team is heading. Yes, there’s still plenty to improve in their game, but there is clearly plenty that has already improved in this back half of the year.

    The loss in Dublin means a squared ledger for the year is no longer possible, but a win over England would be a nice finish to a 2016 season that has seen some encouraging development.

    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.