Australian rugby is renowned for attacking rugby, for wonderful wingers and dazzling backline play. What it’s less know for is powerful scrimmaging, dominant forward packs and total commitment for the full 80 minutes.
But that’s what we got in spades on Sunday morning as a gritty Wallabies defeated Wales to book a quarter-final against Scotland.
In just a short space of time Michael Cheika has reshaped the Australian side into one with mongrel, heart and character, much like he was as a player.
Never-give-up defence is one of their attributes and an ability to stay in a contest even with their backs against the wall. We saw that against Wales when the Wallabies kept their opponents try-less despite having two less man on the field.
It was herculean defence, inspiring stuff just like England displayed before the 2003 World Cup when they went down to 13 players but somehow still beat the All Blacks in Dunedin.
The heroic tackling was typified by Adam Ashley-Cooper’s tremendous hit to stifle a Welsh attack, as the men in red threatened the Wallabies’ line. It may have saved Australia the game.
Australia have always had the flair, the neat passing and great backs, but rarely strong forwards to compliment those backs. Often they have followed up one great win with a terrible loss.
They were consistently inconsistent. The players’ heads appeared as they were off with the clouds at times.
But Cheika has made them tough – not just tough to beat but mentally and physically strong. Despite being under huge pressure, they held on in the Pool A decider and got the important win they craved.
Wales coach Warren Gatland said this after the game: “I thought it was courageous defence from Australia. They were throwing their bodies at us. We were held up over the line three times. You have to credit them. I’m sure Michael will be very proud of the way his team performed and defended.”
The Wallabies certainly showed great courage to repel wave after wave of Welsh attack. They just wouldn’t let the Welsh score.
As Roarer DaniE put it: “Wallabies not looking jubilant – more businesslike and measured. Great to see.”
That is another tactic that Cheika has brought in, keeping his players focused and grounded, not arrogant or unprepared.
You could see it after the England game, the players were clearly not celebrating or getting carryied away just because they had smashed the Poms.
Speaking to Scott Sio, David Pocock and Michael Hooper after the game, each was not straying their attention away from the next fixture, the next challenge. They were measured in their words, perhaps a tad relieved that they had got the result they needed against England.
They know nothing has been won yet.
But on this morning’s evidence, something important could be won in a few weeks time.
Cheika wants his team to stay under the radar, to remain with their eye on the ultimate prize and as the old cliche goes, ‘take it one game at a time’.
The victory over Wales gives the Wallabies a Scotland quarter-final, which if they win, will mean a semi-final with either France, Ireland or Argentina.
Considering the South Africa-New Zealand path that likely awaited if they lost, it is a huge result for Cheika and his men.
They say that great defences win World Cups. On this showing, and last weekend’s against England, Australia may have just that.
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