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This was going to the be the column in which I’d buck convention and actually pinpoint some things the Wallabies could hang their hat on going forward. The Sydney post-mortem seemed to go on much longer than I can ever remember, and it just seemed to me that some positivity was desperately needed.
It still is desperately needed. But it’s not going to happen today, or at least not to the extent I had planned.
By fulltime on Saturday night, the Bledisloe was again gone, and there really wasn’t a lot to write home about. I could find only two fragments of positivity, and so here they are.
Without at all condoning his moment of sheer dunderheaded stupidity, I was really enthused by Adam Coleman’s first Wallabies start. He showed a really encouraging level of commitment and physicality both in attack and defence, and he ripped into the breakdown too. He was great, and there was a lot to like about him for the future.
Ditto Reece Hodge. For a young man on debut to pipe up just inside his own half and say, ‘yeah, I reckon I can kick that’ only minutes after getting onto the field, well, that takes confidence. And of course he nailed it, but Reece Hodge’s kicking ability is widely known. And he showed enough around the park to suggest that he has a decent international future ahead of him, as well.
But that’s it. That’s all I’ve got. After this it’s only head scratching and more questions as I grapple with what the Wallabies served up on Saturday night, and how on earth they think the way they are playing is going to win games any time soon.
Like why when the lineout is getting towelled up from the outset and picked off at will, would you continue to throw to the back?(Click to Tweet)
I’ve never jumped in a lineout in my life, but if I can see that throwing to the front is the obvious resolution, then why the hell can’t blokes who throw and jump in lineouts for a living see that?
And where is the message coming down from the coaches’ box? Where is the suggestion at halftime?
And why when Dean Mumm came on before halftime – after Coleman was yellow carded – was Scott Fardy the man he replaced?
Surely that was the time to hook Kane Douglas, and to make the admission that dropping a lineout lock in Rob Simmons in favour of two physical locks in Douglas and Coleman was still going to compromise the lineout?
Instead, the Wallabies’ breakdown presence was weakened ever further and the lineout problems remained, because Mumm kept calling throws to himself at four or six! Where is the logic in all this?
What possible event during the game is the justification for Michael Cheika saying he wants “to build that combination up and work with that” with regards to the Quade Cooper-Bernard Foley midfield combination?
I genuinely can’t recall anything from the game that would make the Cooper-Foley combination an experiment worth continuing. There was no evident pattern to what they were trying to do even with the little ball they had, and they seemed to be operating in spite of each other, not in concert. And this is something to build on?
For example, Foley threw two passes for the game. Two. It’s less than Coleman, who played 37 fewer minutes, and even David Pocock got four passes away.
And because the non-tackling Foley and the rare-tackling Cooper started, the Wallabies’ new and “easy” defence was more chaotic than ever. The minute the Wallabies lost possession, we were presented with an ants’ nest of bodies shifting around as Foley and Cooper scrambled to get the hell out of there, and players from other positions came into the midfield line. And all this happening revealed another question.
Can Israel Folau actually defend anywhere?
He can’t and doesn’t defend in the front line. In the last couple of Super Rugby games, he didn’t attempt a single tackle, even on the occasion he did stay up in the line. Because he plays this half centre, half fullback, half pregnant hybrid game, he isn’t developing any instincts around front line defence, and his positional awareness at fullback still isn’t great.
But among all the shuffling on Saturday night in Wellington, it stood out that Folau was actually defending on the wing. Reece Hodge went into the ten channel when Cooper disappeared, Samu Kerevi defended at 12 after Foley scarpered, and Dane Haylett-Petty was left to defend at outside centre while Folau still stayed right out of the action. Haylett-Petty’s defence was heavily criticised, and there’s no doubt his tackling technique needs work.
But here he was already playing out of position on the wing, now defending in the hardest channel in the game! And we wonder why he missed five tackles! Meanwhile, the guy who could become anything as a genuine centre still isn’t any closer to starting his midfield defensive apprenticeship.
The midfield defence is a mess, and no matter how easily these things are supposedly fixed, when there’s as much positional shuffling going on as the Wallabies transition from attack into defence, it’s little wonder a dangerous broken field attacking team like the All Blacks is cutting the Wallabies midfield apart. The Wallabies’ defensive method is making the job significantly easier than it should be.
And if Folau can’t defend in the front line even in desperate times, then when will he ever? The sooner he starts defending up front, the simpler the Wallabies’ defence can become.
Cheika has spoken of the Wallabies losing their identity again, but if I’m completely honest, I’m not sure what that identity is anymore. Can you really lose something that’s debateable if you ever had it?
Watching rugby shouldn’t be like this. It shouldn’t leave you in such a state that the more you think about the reasons why something happened, the more questions emerge.
But with a lack of answers from the Wallabies or Cheika themselves, that’s all we’re left with.