Upward trajectory means winning season is within the Wallabies’ grasp

Brett McKay Columnist

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    Here’s a wacky thought that seemed far from likely back in June, and even as recently as mid-August: the Wallabies could very easily finish with a winning 2017 international season.

    Back when the Wallabies struggled to get past Italy, and couldn’t get past Scotland in June, and that whole Sydney episode that I’m really working hard to forget about, the notion that the Wallabies could finish the year in the black was about as likely as a David Campese comeback.

    But the Wallabies hard-fought, confidence-solidifying 37-20 win over Argentina in Mendoza means that for the first time this year, they’ve won more games than they’ve lost.

    Heading into the third Bledisloe in Brisbane on October 21, the record stands at four wins, three losses, and the two draws against South Africa.

    With games to come this year against New Zealand, Japan, Wales, England, and Scotland – the Barbarians game on October 28 is not a capped international, as far as I can tell – the opportunity is definitely there to finish the season in positive territory.

    And what’s more, the way they’ve played since the Sydney Bledisloe, it would be a well-deserved finish to the season in which it feels like they’re really starting to make strides.

    Though the scoreboard didn’t really reflect it at the time, once the Wallabies scored that first converted try after halftime, I didn’t really feel like they would lose from there. By that stage in the game, they were already well on top in terms of possession and territory, were certainly playing more rugby, and were asking more questions of the Argentinean defence than was being asked of their own.

    Tatafu Polota-Nau

    (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

    That is, of course, and as is always the case with the Wallabies, not to suggest they were playing perfect rugby. But they looked comfortable leading 20-13 by this stage, with less than half an hour to play.

    And by this stage, Bernard Foley had already missed two penalties and two conversions, but he converted his own try from in front to push the score out to 20-13, and didn’t miss another one from there, including converting Will Genia’s try ten minutes later from the right-hand tramlines, a notoriously weak area of kicking success for him.

    On Foley, it amused me during the game that social media posters wanted him replaced for no other reason than the missed kicks by this stage. Much of the criticism of his kicking is too quick, or too harsh, or in this case, both. There’s no argument here that wasn’t hitting them well in the first half at all; some of those misses outright shanks off the tee.

    He re-aligned the radar and finished well, and the missed kicks really shouldn’t overshadow what was a pretty solid game from the flyhalf, but I’m well aware there will be plenty of you who won’t share that view.

    Regardless, the best part of this Wallabies win was that although Reece Hodge was a clear best-on-ground for mine, there was anywhere up to half a dozen players who weren’t that far behind him, including Tatafu Polota-Nau and Jack Dempsey. Perhaps the real measure of this Wallabies performance was that I thought it was one of Adam Coleman’s quieter games, and it was one of Israel Folau’s quieter games, too.

    Reece Hodge Australia Rugby Union Wallabies 2017 tall

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    This isn’t a criticism of either player, but rather a relief that the Wallabies might be moving on from being over-reliant on a couple of key individuals. Michael Hooper had a typically strong game again, but Dempsey and Sean McMahon’s output meant that skipper’s game wasn’t such a standout. Again, this is very good thing.

    Looking ahead, and though the Wallabies will be wanting to – and rightly thinking they can – win all five remaining Tests of 2017.

    The third Bledisloe looms as the toughest of the five matches, but England at Twickenham wouldn’t be far behind it. Ditto, Scotland at Murrayfield. Look, they’re all going to be tough games!

    But the Wallabies are playing with renewed confidence, and are even enjoying a little bit of selection stability, even the second row still feels like it’s a lottery held inside a revolving door.

    Guys are putting their hands up, to the point where it’s no certainty that players like Rory Arnold, Kane Douglas, Sefanaia Naiavalu or even Quade Cooper will return at this stage. Lopeti Timani probably shouldn’t even make the Spring Tour on current form, never mind start in the backrow. Karmichael Hunt probably will return, but I think he’s a long way from being a certain starter now.

    The attacking intent is there and very obvious, and even better, it’s bringing results. The Wallabies have scored 39 tries in 2017 to date, with 20 of them coming in the last five Tests; 25 if you throw in the last half an hour in Sydney as well.

    A winning season is well within reach for this Wallabies group, and it’s up to them entirely if they want to achieve it from here.

    But considering where they were back in June, it’s quite remarkable that I’m even toying with the idea.

    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.