Wallabies on the verge of a memorable victory

Elisha Pearce Columnist

By Elisha Pearce, Elisha Pearce is a Roar Expert

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    This Saturday night the Wallabies walk along a tall, narrow ridge. Down one side is a devastating, and for some in the camp career altering, loss.

    The other direction is a victory that ensures this Wallabies group, perhaps viewed as underachieving, will always have an historic occasion to hang their hat on.

    Here are a couple of things that stand out to me as important considerations for how the third and final Lions Test will play out.

    George Smith is back
    The man many still believe is the strongest Australian openside flanker playing is available again. He will certainly bring some strength in terms of knowledge, versatility and game understanding.

    I believe respect for his body of work and status in rugby circles slightly inflated his Brumbies exploits this year in many a nostalgic viewer, but I can’t argue that he was a very effective player this year.

    His strongest games for Brumbies – where he was legitimately in best-on-field discussions – were the first few back.

    The hope from me is a lay-off; injury enforced or not, will see a similar level of strength and purpose on his game. As the Super Rugby season took its toll he reverted to a more nuanced style that involved more linking and less belligerent ball carrying.

    Smith’s performance needs to build on Hooper’s strong ball running and speed around the park while adding a higher level of ruck impact in what might be his last ever Wallabies match.

    Having said that, he does get around the park well and will adequately fill in at fly-half for those times Christian Leali’ifano isn’t available to do James O’Connor’s job.

    Ben Mowen is a high-performance conundrum
    The same reason I had conflicting feelings about Ben Mowen’s tremendous work with the Brumbies this year have also translated to his play with the Wallabies.

    Mowen shows a remarkable ability and desire to get around the field and be involved as often as possible at the ruck, with the ball and in tackles. But he also gives away a lot of penalties that negates some of the good work, especially evidenced last weekend.

    The simple problem is Mowen spends a lot of time on the wrong side of the ruck, in front of the last feet and struggles mightily to respect the referee’s call for “hands off” as quickly as others.

    Combining Mowen with Smith means we will have two flankers that have a particular penchant for drawing the attention of the referee.

    As players who are present at so many rucks and mauls I hope they are smart about how they tried to influence the game because they will both have many opportunities to do so, positively and negatively.

    Don’t give Leigh Halfpenny more chances to win the game.

    Backs reserves are left thin
    Deans is tempting fate with his decision to make the bench a six/two split in favour of forwards. He hasn’t added any particularly game-changing forwards to the list either.

    In the first Test the Wallabies backline was shifted due to injury in the very first minute and they kept dropping all night. I’m sure I saw Hawkeye, Houlihan and Klinger arguing on the sideline about just how to attend to all the wounded flooding off the field.

    Adam Ashley-Cooper is now the most important defender in the backline with Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies together in the middle of the field.

    He’s also the one who’s been beaten up in both games so far and needed more time to work into game shape during the week. Trying that trick a third time in a row is stretching the realms of good management a long way.

    Leaving Nick Phipps and Jesse Mogg as the only back reserves means Adam Ashley-Cooper coming off, even just five or 10 minutes before time, will cause a fairly painful re-jig.

    If another back has had to make way before that stage things will be even uglier. Deans needs to pray and fast in the hope Ashley-Cooper isn’t injured.

    I always thought the series was over if Will Genia was injured as he is one of the main difference makers. Lack of bench alternatives leaves a second scenario where the Wallabies could be carrying another large liability at outside centre.

    Only a naive person would suggest the fact an openside flanker defending at inside centre for a set piece move didn’t a large part in the Lions’ second try at Suncorp.

    Attacking cohesion
    Looking at the bench of each team I think the Lions now have a balance needed to come home with a wet sail in game three, after fading somewhat in the first two Tests.

    Look at who is going to be running onto the field late in the match – Tom Youngs, Mako Vunipola, Richie Gray, Justin Tipuric, Connor Murray and Manusamoa Tuilagi.

    That’s a whole heap of increased work-rate, forward impetus at the ruck and powerful running around the park. I can’t see the Wallabies bench adding the same level of power and impact.

    What that means is the Wallabies can’t afford to be the ones coming from a length back late in the contest.

    The Wallabies must develop some attacking cohesion earlier in the match and force the Lions to scramble and exert more energy defending their line rather than setting up kicks for goal.

    The Wallabies improved in their cohesion in the second Test, more than some people realise.

    While they didn’t decimate the Lions in the possession measurement and there were many frustrating errors, they held the ball for five phases or longer 13 times over the match. The Lions only did that seven times.

    That includes the strong build up to the much-awaited try.

    Key to this is Will Genia moving the ball around the first few channels rather than just selecting the first runner available and a fluid partnership in midfield orchestrating the Wallabies wider speed men.

    At times in the second Test Genia seemed content to just pick up the ball and shovel it along, he can’t do that this weekend.

    Genia needs to drag the first man around the defensive line and keep hitting forwards around the corner or wider out. Then the backs will have room to move, after the Lions have been stressed by consecutive phases.

    Even a poor O’Connor couldn’t mess that up by the 15th phase.

    The Wallabies shouldn’t rely on a fast finish, instead there needs to be cohesion and clinical execution earlier in the match.

    On the verge of an historic achievement, leaving more ‘til the end of the games gives more room to the uneven bounce of the ball, the referee’s interpretation and lady luck.

    Of course, that’s where we’ll end up anyway, won’t we?

    I can’t see this being over until the game clock shifts to red and we’re waiting until the final kick puts the ball in touch.

    Elisha Pearce
    Elisha Pearce

    Long-time Roarer Elisha Pearce joined us as a rugby union expert in 2015. He also works for Fairfax Media and has confused more Roarers with his name than anyone in the history of the site.

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    The Crowd Says (62)

    • July 5th 2013 @ 12:25am
      BennO said | July 5th 2013 @ 12:25am | ! Report

      Great piece.

    • Roar Guru

      July 5th 2013 @ 12:33am
      biltongbek said | July 5th 2013 @ 12:33am | ! Report

      Well I hope the Aussies do win, we need to keep dominating the NH, that should not be negotiable.

      • July 5th 2013 @ 2:18am
        niwdeyaj said | July 5th 2013 @ 2:18am | ! Report

        Biltongbek, now I think in understand what you guys went through with PDiv as Springbok coach… Utter madness from Deans…. No genuine centre to cover AAC who will be weary as pointed out in the article and CLL, in a game they will most likely face the toughest onslaught of the series from the Lions centre’s… Davies with a fresh Roberts and Tuilagi off the bench is going to be tough to stop and if they break the line Beale may as well lay down a red carpet and hold up a white flag as he won’t stop them and would be better off not trying than risking injury himself… Can’t believe Deans has gone with a complete rookie on the bench who only covers fullback/wing when we already have x4 fullback/wings on the field (and no #10 mind you).

        Having said that, I’m semi-confident the wallabies can do this (only semi-confident as a lot will depend on luck with injuries and whether JOC manages to catch a few balls this week and if he gets that far, then if he distribute) and if we do win, lets be clear, it will be despite.Deans, not because of him.

        if I were to drink 10 beers, drive home and get caught, it would clearly be a bad decision. But what if I don’t get caught? Is it still a bad decision? Of course it is… and this is no different… Deans hasn’t just had 10 beers, he’s put away two cases and chugged one more just to beat Boonie’s record, and now he’s about to jump in the car… Will he:

        a) get home safe (wallabies win comfortably and the ARU extend his contract to 2015 in jubilation)
        b) get caught by the police (wallabies win marginally and the ARU allow him to finish his contract before re-considering)
        c) crash into a tree (wallabies lose marginally and the ARU confirms Deans will not be reappointed,.and invite other applicants)
        d) crash into a bus full of orphans (wallabies get thrashed and the ARU dump him by Sunday)

        the good thing is there are positives in all of these outcomes for Wallabies fans, but most ideal would be:

        e) get home safe, only to find his wife cheating on him with Quade Cooper (Wallabies win comfortably and the ARU realize he’s got no idea and dump him by Sunday anyway).

        GO THE WALLABIES!!!!

        • Roar Guru

          July 5th 2013 @ 2:31am
          biltongbek said | July 5th 2013 @ 2:31am | ! Report

          I personally think the Wallabies will win this one, my reasons are.

          1. Halfpenny can’t improve on his kicking it is already near 100%
          2. Bash, bang and bash again has not been successful against OZ, SA is a prime example of that.
          3. The Lions don’t have more to give, I said from the start they have two playmakers that can bring variety to their attack, Davies and O’Driscoll, it didn’t work, now Gatland is putting Roberts in there who hasn’t played well even before his injury.
          4. The Wallabies were poor in execution last match, they can only improve from there.
          5. Where as Halfpenny’s kicking kept the Lions in both games, the Aussies have not been helped by their kickers in the first test, Lealiifano will be that guy, and now that he has completed 80 minutes of test rugby will have much more confidence.
          6. I expect Izzy to make an impact in this game, he has shown what he could do in the first, in the second he didn’t get much opportunity purely due to poor execution by Australia, it ain’t going to happen again.

          • July 5th 2013 @ 4:54pm
            strupper2003 said | July 5th 2013 @ 4:54pm | ! Report

            All valid and well thought points biltongbek. interesting article elisha.

    • July 5th 2013 @ 2:34am
      Ben said | July 5th 2013 @ 2:34am | ! Report

      If ACC goes down….who goes in? What about Izzy? In the SBW mould. Would definitely be interesting. Otherwise mogg to wing and Jo T to 13. Or is it Beale to 10 and JoC to the centers.

      I will be surprised to see ACC last the full 80. Lions are definitely going to send traffic his way early.

      What a game can’t wait.

      • Roar Guru

        July 5th 2013 @ 2:37am
        biltongbek said | July 5th 2013 @ 2:37am | ! Report

        I think Beale to 10, O’Connor to midfield and Mogg to 15.

        • July 5th 2013 @ 2:50am
          Hopperdoggy said | July 5th 2013 @ 2:50am | ! Report

          Can’t see many other options BB but …… God spare us that!

      • Columnist

        July 5th 2013 @ 8:02am
        Elisha Pearce said | July 5th 2013 @ 8:02am | ! Report

        What happens its …

        AAC doesnt get injured…

        • Roar Guru

          July 5th 2013 @ 12:45pm
          Rob na Champassak said | July 5th 2013 @ 12:45pm | ! Report

          I can’t help but find it amusing how earlier this week, Ashley-Cooper was being nicknamed the T-1000, but now that the team list has come to light, he’s being portrayed as Little Mac from Mike Tyson’s Punch Out.

          Was there ever a more temperamental and panicky species than a Wallaby supporter? 😉

          • July 5th 2013 @ 1:02pm
            Elisha Pearce said | July 5th 2013 @ 1:02pm | ! Report

            T-1000? Did I miss something? I was away for a few days, did read the news but didn’t really pick up on Adam Ashley-Cooper as terminator references!

            On the otherhand, my wife has been very pleased with the amount of pictures of AAC that are accompanying rugby articles these days, even my own ones. Haha

            • Roar Guru

              July 5th 2013 @ 1:16pm
              Rob na Champassak said | July 5th 2013 @ 1:16pm | ! Report

              The T-1000 comment was from a Roarer. I’ve forgotten which article it came from, just that it gave me a bit of a chuckle earlier this week.

              But he wasn’t the only one to throw the word ‘indestructible’ around. It’s funny how quickly perceptions can change – at least publicly.

              • Roar Rookie

                July 5th 2013 @ 1:29pm
                Rassie said | July 5th 2013 @ 1:29pm | ! Report

                Yeah same happen to Burger who was called the Terminator but now looks he had been terminated himself

    • July 5th 2013 @ 3:36am
      maxxlord said | July 5th 2013 @ 3:36am | ! Report

      I hate Robbie Deans as Wallaby coach ,hope they lose badly and he gets sacked. That being said, the decision to go with Smith is a clever one, the ref this weekend does not police the breakdown, Smith and Mowen have an excellent chance to cause havoc there like Strockosh did for Scotland against the Boks.

      • July 5th 2013 @ 10:34am
        The Battered Slav said | July 5th 2013 @ 10:34am | ! Report

        You hope the wallabies lose?

        I’d be backing the Wallabies to the hilt even if they had Adolf Hitler and and Satan himself on the coaching staff.

        What a stupid thing to say…

        • Roar Guru

          July 5th 2013 @ 1:24pm
          Rob na Champassak said | July 5th 2013 @ 1:24pm | ! Report

          I think I might draw the line at Hitler and Satan…

          • July 5th 2013 @ 1:35pm
            The Battered Slav said | July 5th 2013 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

            I don’t know about that, Satan would make a hell of a forwards coach.

            • Roar Guru

              July 5th 2013 @ 1:50pm
              Rob na Champassak said | July 5th 2013 @ 1:50pm | ! Report

              Yes, but Hitler would constantly be playing for territory, and the endless bombs would just not suit our style.

              • July 5th 2013 @ 2:01pm
                budgie said | July 5th 2013 @ 2:01pm | ! Report

                They could play for the “ashes”….!

              • July 5th 2013 @ 3:06pm
                The Battered Slav said | July 5th 2013 @ 3:06pm | ! Report

                Anything that provides Genia a bit more Lebensraum around the fringes would be OK by me.

            • July 5th 2013 @ 2:52pm
              BetterRedThanDead said | July 5th 2013 @ 2:52pm | ! Report

              Very droll chaps 🙂

        • July 5th 2013 @ 2:50pm
          maxxlord said | July 5th 2013 @ 2:50pm | ! Report

          This is not news my friend, i have been consistent in my views that Deans must go whatever the short term losses . I assume you are Australian? So you have to always back the team whatever they serve up. I’m not, i choose to support the Wallabies because they believe in playing good football when they not under an overrated bonehead of a coach. You are not free to speak the truth due to national pride issues, i respect that, but allow the rest of us to make the honest calls.

          • July 5th 2013 @ 3:12pm
            The Battered Slav said | July 5th 2013 @ 3:12pm | ! Report

            Not at all. I myself have been a vocal critic of Deans, particularly his recent insistence to have JOC at 10.

            I’m certainly not afraid to voice my displeasure with Deans.

            However, I have never and will never want the Walabies to lose. If they do lose and Deans is given the heave-ho, that to me would be a silver lining to the loss, not something that I will be hoping for.

            This is a once in 12 year event and you’re willing them to defeat just to have a slightly better chance of getting rid of Deans? That’s madness.

            Think about it…do you really want to deal with 12 years worth of crowing from NH fans just to have a marginally better chance of getting rid of Deans?

    • July 5th 2013 @ 5:07am
      Bazza Allblack Supporter said | July 5th 2013 @ 5:07am | ! Report

      I think the wallabies need a decisive victory, a narrow loss and unconvincing win followed by a narrow win would not convince me that the wallabies have progressed much past the mediocrity of last year.

      A good win would set the stage for rugby championship else the men in gold continue their journey towards meh.

      • July 5th 2013 @ 6:59am
        Chivas said | July 5th 2013 @ 6:59am | ! Report

        Good thing it’s not you they need to convince.

      • July 5th 2013 @ 9:30am
        formeropenside said | July 5th 2013 @ 9:30am | ! Report

        Bazza, we arrived at meh in late 2011, and have largely been there ever since.

    • July 5th 2013 @ 6:28am
      Justin3 said | July 5th 2013 @ 6:28am | ! Report

      Super article as usual Elisha. Well done mate, top drawer. You are more than worthy of being in the red side of the roar.

      • July 5th 2013 @ 8:52am
        Elisha Pearce said | July 5th 2013 @ 8:52am | ! Report

        Thank you. Appreciate the encouragement. I just re-read my article then and was thinking to myself: “Edit, Elisha! Edit!”

        So I’m glad someone enjoyed it!

      • Roar Guru

        July 5th 2013 @ 1:28pm
        Rob na Champassak said | July 5th 2013 @ 1:28pm | ! Report

        More than worthy of being on the *read* side of the Roar.

        FTFY 😉

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