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England have done the Wallabies a massive favour

Brett McKay Columnist

By Brett McKay, Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    There’s no escaping the obvious, England’s Cook Cup-sealing second Test win over the Wallabies in Melbourne was as complete as it was clinical.

    Eddie Jones brought his squad to Australia with the express intention of winning the series, and they’ve done that with a week to spare.

    In doing so – England’s first ever three-Test series win – they’ve climbed to number two in the World Rugby rankings, while the Wallabies have slipped to fourth.

    What it shows is just how far off the pace England were during the Rugby World Cup. Oh, how they’d love to find a time machine with the form they’re currently enjoying.

    The tactics of again imposing themselves physically on the Wallabies worked a treat, with the locals put off their game from the outset, unable to establish the platform of points as in Brisbane the week before. By the time the Wallabies finally got their head in the game and found their first points, they were already trailing by ten.

    From there, England simply dug in. And waited.

    As they found last week in Brisbane, patience was the name of the game, and as long as their defensive line held, the inevitable Australian mistakes would come. Twenty-four turnovers the Wallabies conceded, but I’d hate to think how many of them came on the end of extended periods of phase possession.

    And, of course, England’s line did hold. Their defensive effort has been nothing short of phenomenal this series and is clearly the hallmark of the Jones blueprint. On Saturday night in Melbourne the England defence was herculean from the opening whistle, and simply never gave Australia a sniff.

    Depending on your stats source, England made 182 of 213 tackles, or 217 of 242 tackles. Whatever the number, making that many tackles in 80 minutes in the range of 85-90 per cent success is incredible.

    Jones, before arriving in Australia, mentioned his players’ fitness levels needed work, and he simply wouldn’t even contemplate such a defence-heavy gameplan without having made gains.

    Billy Vunipola played the full 80 making 20 tackles, while James Haskell (23 tackles) and Dylan Hartley (17) played all but eight minutes. Chris Robshaw also went off after 72 minutes after hitting I don’t know how many rucks.

    Haskell and Robshaw combined for 27 of the 99 tackles England made in Brisbane, too, and played the full match.

    The series win was a triumph of Jones’ planning over the comparative uncertainty of Michael Cheika’s preparations. There’s no doubt the former Randwick rake out-pointed his younger teammate by any measure you’d like to throw up: on the field, media mind games, clarity of selection, whatever.

    Jones somehow managed to maintain the underdog status, despite the first Test win, and beautifully maintained the narrative of England being up against it. How many times last week did you hear the phrases, “coach of the year”, or “number two in the world”, or “on their own turf”?

    Countless.

    He didn’t quite have the same amount of time as he prepared Japan for their historic Rugby World Cup win over South Africa, but there can be little doubt Jones went into similar great detail about just how his side would pull the Wallabies’ game apart. And he’s not done yet; he’s already demanded a series whitewash of his team, and right now, it’s hard to know just how the Wallabies will stop that.

    And that’s the worrying bit. Just where will the Wallabies’ spark come from?

    The loss in Melbourne could be attributed to a number of factors; almost a self-fulfilling prophecy situation. A lack of go-forward platform begat a passive breakdown presence begat a backline forced to carry into contact, which once again found no way of making forward progress.

    Changes will almost certainly be required for the third Test in Sydney, but I have no idea where to start. Reading the reactions and post-mortems since Saturday night hasn’t helped either, because aside from Samu Kerevi, Israel Folau, and Dane Haylett-Petty, every player should apparently be dropped.

    And even then, Kerevi, Folau, and Haylett-Petty should play different positions in Sydney, so the stories go.

    The reality is we’re all just guessing. Shuffling the deck chairs, if you like. I have no idea what rein Cheika can pull now, and I’d be pleasantly surprised if he’s worked it out by now anyway.

    Besides, whomever Cheika picks, the England team will just back their white wall.

    So it’s silver lining time. England – and Eddie – might be doing the Wallabies a massive favour.

    If the Wallabies have any success in the Rugby Championship this year – let alone the Bledisloe – it might just be that the harsh lessons learnt during this Cook Cup series loss will have been the catalyst.

    Cheika and his assistants – particularly attack coach Stephen Larkham – need to go back to the drawing board with regard to the attacking shape. Finding some would be a first step, and from there the variations and the alternate plans can be developed.

    Because what’s clear after these last two outings is that while other teams have moved on from their Rugby World Cup methods, the Wallabies have not. They’re offering up easy pickings for opposition sides currently, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see teams letting the Wallabies play all the rugby, while they just defend and wait for errors.

    New Zealand could do exactly that and have a field day converting those inevitable errors into points.

    It’s all fine and good for Cheika to deflect and say he has to take responsibility for the series loss, just as he did after the Rugby World Cup final. But there also has to come a time – soon, you’d hope – where the Wallabies themselves can see that whatever it is they think they’re doing for 80 minutes quite obviously isn’t working.

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.

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    The Crowd Says (273)

    • Roar Guru

      June 21st 2016 @ 7:12am
      Harry Jones said | June 21st 2016 @ 7:12am | ! Report

      Test 2 reminded me of QF 2011.

      The winner at Wellington in the RWC quarterfinal was Australia, who survived stats that looked like England’s this weekend.

      2011:

      SA v OZ

      Runs 141 v 57
      Passes 203 v 69
      Metres run 488 v 284
      Possession 67% v 33%
      Territory 75% v 25%
      Tackles 54 v 151

      2016

      OZ v Eng

      Runs 188 v 66
      Passes 224 v 62
      Metres 501 v 226
      Possession 71% v 29%
      Territory 74% v 26%
      Tackles 53 v 182

      • June 21st 2016 @ 10:02am
        Gilbert said | June 21st 2016 @ 10:02am | ! Report

        Jeez Harry you still can’t get over that 2011 game.

      • June 21st 2016 @ 10:55am
        Buk said | June 21st 2016 @ 10:55am | ! Report

        For me big difference watching that game – I thought Australia would be lucky if they win. That was one I thought Pocock won for us, but we were very lucky to come through.

        During the England game, part way through the game I expected England to win. Yes one could argue they had some luck with some 50:50’s going their way, but they looked like they knew what they were doing, and had confidence in their method.

      • June 21st 2016 @ 2:22pm
        Akari said | June 21st 2016 @ 2:22pm | ! Report

        Thanks for the stats, Harry

    • June 21st 2016 @ 7:36am
      Adrian said | June 21st 2016 @ 7:36am | ! Report

      Good article…. I am very surprised though that everyone is trying to get rid of many players that have played their guts out for the last 12 months such as Fardy and Hooper. I honestly think one of the big issues is with Phipps and his woeful service. Watch the last 5 important wallaby games and his passing at key times is terrible. He has no vision and puts both backs and forwards under so much pressure. Look at the service Arron Smith provides the AB’s, it’s a huge difference to a game when you are receiving the ball on the front foot and perfectly into your hands.
      Removing Phipps would be my only change and it would make a big difference.

      • Columnist

        June 21st 2016 @ 10:06am
        Geoff Parkes said | June 21st 2016 @ 10:06am | ! Report

        Phipps is an easy target Adrian and while it is true that his service was below par on Saturday I am yet to hear a compelling case as to who would be a better replacement. The reality is that halfback depth in Australia is very shallow, not helped by the fact that 2/5 super rugby sides have ineligible overseas halfbacks as first string.

        So you throw Phipps out, what happens then? Frisby maybe deserves a chance but he certainly doesn’t appeal to me as being a test quality halfback, and definitely not the Aaron Smith type you’re looking for. Powell is the next one in the squad, young and totally unproven.

        Stirzaker had a slow, injury plagued start to the season. He’d be my choice but Cheika obviously had a reason for not including him in his squad.

        I saw calls yesterday for Nic White, but for every one of those there would be twice the number who have marked him as never again for the Wallabies. Genia? You’d have to think that his time has passed.

        By all means bag Phipps, but that’s the easy part. What’s the alternative?

        • Roar Guru

          June 21st 2016 @ 10:46am
          Machooka said | June 21st 2016 @ 10:46am | ! Report

          Agree with these comments Geoff… and for mine it appeared as Phipps was pre-occupied with trying to get the Ref to penalise the English for laying around our side of the ruck.
          Coupled that with the effect that the England did manage to slow the ball down, and, or were holding Phipps once he had made a pass… hence slowing his ability to get to the next ruck.
          Clever stuff by England!

        • June 21st 2016 @ 10:51am
          Markus said | June 21st 2016 @ 10:51am | ! Report

          “I am yet to hear a compelling case as to who would be a better replacement.”
          Any scrum half with the ability to pass accurately and to pass further than 10 metres without a running start. Everything else can be worked on from there.

          Genia is 28 years old, why do people talk as if he is pushing 40?

          • Columnist

            June 21st 2016 @ 11:18am
            Geoff Parkes said | June 21st 2016 @ 11:18am | ! Report

            I’ve consistently backed Genia Markus, he was clearly the world’s best halfback in 2012 and has a much more rounded game than any of the others mentioned here.

            But do you know that he is playing well enough to be selected this year, and is busting his gut to be part of the team and back in Australia playing for the Wallabies? If yes, then fair enough, pick him. If no, then he’s just another name on the list.

            • June 21st 2016 @ 2:28pm
              Browny said | June 21st 2016 @ 2:28pm | ! Report

              “Genia is on track to make his return from a persistent knee injury next month after it derailed his first season in Paris.”

              http://www.smh.com.au/rugby-union/union-news/will-genia-backs-queensland-reds-revival-but-not-ready-to-join-returning-stars-20160617-gpm6ai.html

              I love that he’s not even playing rugby right now and every second supporter sees him as a better alternative to Phipps.

              We really need to bring in some clauses that restrict the Super Rugby teams from picking overseas players in certain positions. Nothing personally against Cubelli and Mathewson or the powers that be at the Brumbies and Force who signed them but it’d be pretty handy to have Australian eligible (potential future eligible) players occupying those positions. Pretty much every forward position, particularly tighthead, lock and 8…

              • June 21st 2016 @ 3:42pm
                Markus said | June 21st 2016 @ 3:42pm | ! Report

                I’m okay with the Brumbies selecting Cubelli. It is their first use of the marquee option since its availability and only used after Nic White left one year earlier than anticipated. One of their developing scrumhalves was just included in the 39 man Wallabies squad.

                Mathewson on the other hand has been at the Force for 4 seasons now while they have had others like Ian Prior and Ryan Louwrens available.

        • June 21st 2016 @ 11:53am
          Hoqni said | June 21st 2016 @ 11:53am | ! Report

          I will go with Frisby. A baby sitter at Reds for 2 seasons tending to junior flyhalves

        • June 21st 2016 @ 12:08pm
          Andrew said | June 21st 2016 @ 12:08pm | ! Report

          I dare say that’s a major reason why Cheika included Jordan Jackson Hope in the original 30 man squad. He’s only young and has loads of potential. I agree it was one of our worst areas. I think we over-committed at the breakdown partly because of englands solid effort and partly because we looked hopeless in that area. I believe that comes from a lack of leadership and direction from a 9 or 10. Slow ball seriously hampered our backs efforts running at an england defence that had time to reset all match.

          • Roar Guru

            June 21st 2016 @ 1:23pm
            Mark Richmond said | June 21st 2016 @ 1:23pm | ! Report

            I’m assuming you mean Joe Powell. Jordan Jackson Hope is an inside centre, currently with the U20s.

            • June 21st 2016 @ 3:03pm
              Andrew said | June 21st 2016 @ 3:03pm | ! Report

              Yeah that’s the one. As great as it is for the Brums to have Cubelli, it would be great to see this bloke and Dowsett get more of a run.

        • June 21st 2016 @ 2:02pm
          Chronicle said | June 21st 2016 @ 2:02pm | ! Report

          Phipps is not just an easy target, his performance has made him a target and we need to do better if we are to win.

          Phipps has had a number of chances at test level and every game makes a number serious errors for a halfback mainly associated with his pass and each season produces at least one very ordinary effort not at test standard but Cheika has remained loyal.

          The problem with this loyalty is that with Genia (thanks to the Giteau rule) and White being obviously given every indication in the 2014 EOY tour and 2015 RWC that he wasn’t wanted, going overseas we have been left with limited alternatives.

          IMO Genia has not been at worlds best level since 2011 when he was the third highest kicker of the ball in Super Rugby something that is no longer tolerated and required in Australian rugby.

          As for White marked never to be a Wallaby again his performances excluding NZ were of the highest standard and his performances when starting against NZ is 1 draw and two losses both at Eden Park where our forwards were dominated both times and yellow cards and discarded penalty attempts in Sydney probably had more to do with the results. Whilst criticised for taking too long at the ruck his accuracy of pass and speed to breakdown were not questioned. Others halves are excused for procrastination when our forwards are dominated. I have always wondered why when deemed good enough to start at Eden Park White was given no further opportunities.

          Cheika selections and Aru top up contracts maybe a key issue in losing players such as Higginbotham, Toomua, Gill, Jones and White overseas.

      • June 21st 2016 @ 11:30am
        kiwineil said | June 21st 2016 @ 11:30am | ! Report

        Phipps an easy target, but not many halfbacks look good when their forwards are going backwards.
        Solve that problem and Phipps looks better.. ..
        That said his better” still isnt very good. The whole team displayed a stunning lack of smarts, and he did very litttle to change the game up – chip kicks or grubbers to turn the English forwards around anyone?
        So I’d send Phipps out on the weekend with instructions to clear the ball quickly instead of standing waving his arms around like a French tram conductor – what was with that… seriously ….

        • June 21st 2016 @ 10:06pm
          Boomeranga said | June 21st 2016 @ 10:06pm | ! Report

          I think more brains and a better kicking game are two of the key issues for us. As a fan a good pressure releasing kick or a clever kick seems pretty rare. I like that we prefer to run the ball, but we need to add a few more tools to make some progress.

    • June 21st 2016 @ 7:45am
      Antoni said | June 21st 2016 @ 7:45am | ! Report

      “Deck chairs on the Titanic”, well done Brett, you have fed the Neil Blacks of this blog their very satisfying breakfast. Lazy.
      I don’t think there is much between glory and defeat in this series and I am confident the Wallabies can get back to no 2 quickly. It all starts this weekend and a good result will very quickly turn the negativity around. All the Poms did was play to the conditions and tackle very well. Well done to them.
      But Cheika must select a conventional side, or his castle will continue to crumble.

      • June 21st 2016 @ 12:05pm
        Phil said | June 21st 2016 @ 12:05pm | ! Report

        I am very much in agreement with you,Antoni.Although our play was very frustrating at times,we could quite easily have won both tests.Some very stupid decision making at crucial times cost us in both.Particularly Hooper’s decision not to take the 3.I am a great Hooper fan but that was just plain dumb,unless of course the decision came from the sideline.If it was the coaches decision then I would have backed him if he had gone against it,although I wouldn’t have had to face Cheika afterwards!

        • June 21st 2016 @ 1:07pm
          Neil Back said | June 21st 2016 @ 1:07pm | ! Report

          Geez, I really hope you win the next one. Dealing with three tests on the bounce you could have won ‘quite easily’ would have be tough to rationalise ….wouldn’t it? Errr ……

    • June 21st 2016 @ 7:52am
      Waz said | June 21st 2016 @ 7:52am | ! Report

      Sticking with the silver lining theme; these test series against NH sides at this time of year normally feature a close win in the first match, a second win by a bigger margin against tired/injured opponents and if there is a third game it is something of an easy win.

      But basically they do not normally prepare you for the Boks or the All Blacks. The silver lining is, these two England games have prepared us well for what is to come. Bonus.

      Then of course there’s how we’ve performed …. 🙁

    • June 21st 2016 @ 7:54am
      wardad said | June 21st 2016 @ 7:54am | ! Report

      You blimmin Aussies need to beat the poms else the over fattened pommy heads[ on the UK blogs ] may well snap their wee necks !Just get yer act together for christs sake Eddie Jones is insufferable at the best of times.

      • June 21st 2016 @ 8:59am
        Waz said | June 21st 2016 @ 8:59am | ! Report

        Stay off the uk blogs then mate, the Poms are entitled to be happy the way they’re playing!

    • June 21st 2016 @ 7:54am
      TB said | June 21st 2016 @ 7:54am | ! Report

      I tend to agree with you Brett apart from turnovers after long phases of possession this team ran them selves out of there own half numerous times. The structure is there but the rugby smarts are not. Most of the blame has to go with the on field leadership, I mean where were the inside balls where was the support play and he offloads, most of all where was the common sense to slot a drop goal to keep the score board ticking over. The wallabies played dumb rugby and deserved to get beaten.

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