While the long list of Wallaby faults have been well pointed out over the last two weeks, I want to indulge in a little bit of cautious optimism. First of all, an overview. Half-empty rightly points out that the Wallabies gave away tries through errors in the first test and produced an abominable half of rugby in the second.
Half-full says that in the first test the Wallabies re-found the long lost ability to claw back a lead and have the nerve to win at the death; like that Eales kick, like that pass from Campo to Lynagh. It also says that in the second test Australia posted 25 unanswered points in 40 minutes through expansive play, and could well have had more. A complete change of gear.
Of course, this wasn’t the strongest Welsh side (it also wasn’t nearly as bad as many would have you believe). However, not only can you only play what’s put in front of you, there’s plenty of top drawer competition to come in the Tri-Nations. The two “we can actually do it” confidence lessons mentioned above could prove vital in the months ahead.
Then to the detail. In the backs it would seem that the results of the experiment are now conclusive; Giteau makes a below average half back and a world class inside centre. I say that if two halves of turgid back-line play is what it costs to put this craziness emphatically to bed, then well worth it. But for the half-empty mind-set, this seems to be a ‘Back to the walls’ retreat.
Greg Growden claims that ‘This long-time midfield set-up, which has played together regularly since the 2003 World Cup, has been unable to stop numerous Test losses away from home’. I’d be interested to see the real stats on how much test game time the Gregan, Larkham, Giteau (at 12), and Mortlock combination has actually seen. My rusty memory has at least one of them (except Gregan) injured at any one time.
Regardless, this is the best half and centre combination that Australia has now. It also actually ‘clicked’ when allowed to play. Add to this some promising glimpses (and tries) from Ioane, Mitchell and Huxley, all names outside the usual suspects. Not only do they add depth to the squad, but also true pace and even some tactical kicking.
For the forwards, plenty of positives. The scrum found parity (without Baxter, go figure), the line-out largely dominated and players like Sharpe and Palu came into their own. Elsom has claimed 6 and Vickerman is working his way back. Don’t forget that when the back-line experiment was at its worse in the first test, the forwards stood up and pegged back a win almost single handedly.
To paraphrase the last world cup winning coach, you need to spend twice as much time finding what went right and figuring out how to reproduce it, than the time you spend dwelling on what went wrong. I hate to say it, but perhaps we could take a leaf out of his book.