A shudder ran down the collective New Zealand spine yesterday. Raw memories of all those times in the past when the Wallabies have crept up on them and stolen their silverware have been stirred.
It could happen again. In fact, the odds on it happening again are beginning to shorten alarmingly on the strength of Australia’s almost flawless burglary at Twickenham.
You have to hand it to this Wallaby squad. From a nervous, tentative outfit brimming with self-doubt they put on the most comprehensive demonstration of fast, error-free and adventurous rugby we have yet seen at this World Cup.
This was the kind of footy that the Wallabies played under John Eales, and orchestrated so cleverly by George Gregan and Steve Larkham. All that nonsense in the British press beforehand about Bernard Foley being unable to run a game or kick effectively, and that the dramatic unpredictability of Quade Cooper is a better bet for the Wallabies, was blown away for good.
In reality Wallabies sides are always at their best when they stick to the formula of fast accurate passing and high speed recycling away from the breakdown. Cooper’s eccentricities get in the way of that, disrupt the flow and cause no end of anxiety among those around him.
There has been a lingering slight, not just in the British media, which has the Aussie pack as a collection of easy-beats, a pushover for the All Blacks, Springboks and English. Well, that assumption came a very sudden thud at Twickenham. Perhaps it was the work of the great Argentinian hooker Mario Ledesma who Michael Cheika called in to stiffen the Wallabies up at scrum time that caused the English such a shock.
Clearly, England were intent on imposing their in-built sense of superiority backed by loud renditions of sweet chariots swinging low, grinding the Wallabies down and relying on their tactical kicking to take the game away from Australia. They wanted to negate the impact of the two sneak thieves, Michael Hooper and David Pocock at the breakdown by committing more bodies to the cleanout.
The most astute English commentator, Simon Barnes said as much beforehand: “Emotions, scrums, nullification of the flankers and kicking should save England.” On all counts the English failed.
The greatest failure, apart from the scrum, was their sheer inability to stop the Hooper/Pocock roadshow. These two effectively turned the game. Time and again the English cleaners-out simply couldn’t get there quickly enough to cut them off and showed what a difficult job that is against a double act as phenomenally gifted as this.
Michael Cheika’s seemingly bizarre experiment earlier in the year in the Sydney Test against New Zealand has paid off and lumbering English forwards simply couldn’t cope with it.
With their set pieces in high retreat the English backline began to panic. In the second half in particular their performance became a carbon copy of their capitulation to a Welsh team that never really expected to win until the last five minutes.
The English backline showed all the tactical acumen of a cabbage and we can now assume that the futile experiment with Burgess in midfield has come to a merciful end, submerged in the welter of recrimination and scapegoating that only the British media are capable of indulging in.
Unless Wales, who have clearly burned up most of their emotional stockpile, or the French who, true to character, will keep the punters guessing all the way through the tournament, or the Irish who are good for at least one heroic effort at the business end of the tournament, manage to make their way through to the semis, then it is once again destined to be a southern hemisphere show.