“That’s one small step for a man and one giant leap for mankind”. I am not sure if the late Neil Armstrong ever thought that, 43 years later, those words would be used to describe the present state of Australian rugby.
The victory over the Springboks in Perth on Saturday night was by no means a classic.
However it was potentially a launching pad for Australian rugby.
While some were over the moon with the victory, there was much to dislike about Australia’s performance.
While the game itself may reinforce Australia’s recent domination of South Africa, it also illustrated that the Wallabies are essentially about a 50 to 55 minute team and go missing for about 20 to 25 minutes per game.
It is usually this window that the All Blacks exploit and seal their victories. On Saturday night, that 20-odd minute window was the latter half of the first half.
With Tendai Mtawarira in the ‘sin bin’ for the last eight odd minutes or so of the first half, Australia failed to take serious advantage of the extra man.
Although Berrick Barnes added six points off his boot in that period Australia never really threatened with ball in hand.
South Africa upped the tempo and Australia looked threatened at times. This is an area where Australia must become more ruthless and mentally attuned to if we are to improve.
It was a gift period to which we did not fully exploit. Think what the All Blacks would have done with such a gift?
Australia looked lost in attack for much of that first half.
With the ever present chip-kick, I was seriously considering switching over to the Freemantle-Geelong clash as at least their kicks add value to the overall game.
I persisted and it appears so did Robbie Deans. I think his half time description of ‘silly dribbly kicks’ was an apt description.
It did leave me pondering what the All Blacks may have done to Australia given the same amount of unnecessary turn over ball?
Australia took too many poor options in attack, and against a higher quality opposition the game could have been taken away from us.
The positive was the victory itself, coupled with some magnificent defence. This was best illustrated by Adam Ashley-Coopers dual tackle on Mvovo and De Villiers in the second half.
Although it did appear high, it did show Ashley-Cooper’s commitment in stopping the raid and inspired his team on.
Prior to the game Wallaby legend Tim Horan spoke about how in 1992 at Newlands, Willie Offahenague’s hit on Uli Schmidt changed the nature of the game.
Horan believed Australia would be looking towards a similar inspirational moment and for me that tackle was it. It set a tone that Australia was willing to fight, to go the extra mile to get the job done.
In the second half the Australians took the ball to the line, cleaned out with commitment and reaped the reward.
Liam Gill and Scott Higginbotham were both effective as substitutes after impressive efforts by Sitaleki Timani and Radeke Samo.
Dennis, toiled in tight and did some very good work in the line-out taking six off Australia’s throw.
Nathan Sharpe was inspirational and was supported in patches by Polotau-Nau, Alexander and Slipper.
Benn Robinson to me is still a mystery. I am not sure what value he added to the performance and I am still waiting for Greg Holmes to be called up.
There have been many who thought Dom Shipperly was not up to Test match rugby.
I hope his solid debut on Saturday night dispelled that unwarranted criticism. While Digby Ioane is by far our most potent running back it was Shipperly who came off his wing looking for work while holding up his end of the bargain on the wing.
Australia must find a way to get Ioane more involved in the game. Quade Cooper was competent however his great mate Kurtley Beale again failed to fire.
I would like to see Luke Morahan be given an chance at fullback as Beale was awful in his efforts to take the high ball and offered little to nothing in attack. Morahan should be given more opportunity given his Super Rugby form over the past two seasons.
With Will Genia out for six months the mantle will fall heavy on the shoulders of Nick Phipps.
I think he will step up however with Nic White also unavailable perhaps a Josh Holmes or Brendan McKibbon may find themselves in Wallaby gold in the not too distant future.
A fantastic opportunity for young half backs in this country to have a crack.
While happy for the win that ensured the Wallabies remain ‘The Buzz Aldrins’ of world rugby for now, I think we have a long way to go before we can seriously threaten New Zealand.
However a small step was taken in the right direction in Perth and who knows where it will take Australian rugby?