The current Australian rugby calendar is a mess. Rather than having a clear and logical structure, it’s a patchwork of competitions overlapping throughout the year and overwhelming all but the most committed fans.
After an expected 37-14 victory over Fiji in front of a dismal crowd turnout in Melbourne the Wallabies now face their toughest test of the June internationals. Make no mistake about it – it will be tough.
It was a good performance overall for the Wallabies against Fiji with Israel Folau scoring a double to break his try ‘drought’ and Karmichael Hunt slotting into 12 with noticeable energy in attack and defence.
You could see the Wallabies trying to play an expansive game from the get go but some of their skills still aren’t up to scratch. Some quick passing between backs and forwards to exploit overlaps within their own 22 are exactly the type of plays that the Wallabies need to have in their kit bag, but at this stage Mick Byrne still needs to work on their handling skills and ball protection.
Defence too was an issue, some questions have been raised about Nathan Grey’s defensive structure during the Super Rugby season and last weekend did not go far to addressing these. A couple of times Fiji broke out through the ruck as well as out wide with some classic Fijian offload play, specifically from second rower Leone Nakarawa who was immense all game.
Missed tackles are the most glaring defensive point that needs work for the Wallabies, 34 missed tackles is just too many to give away to good quality international sides like Scotland.
Scotland too is coming off the back of a solid 34-13 win against Italy in a hot and humid Singapore and like the Wallabies the Scots had some issues early on. Poor offloading and discipline allowed Italy to keep pace until just before half time when the Scots exploded with a flourish of tries either side of the whistle.
Scotland are a team looking to play a fast paced game under their new coach Gregor Townsend and you could see a few tactics that were being tested out last weekend that will most likely be rolled out again for the Wallabies. Tactical kicking like the kick pass was used to get in behind the defence and the chip kick was used to put the defence in two minds, with one chip kick leading to a great catch and try by Tim Visser.
Scotland has made eight changes for Saturday’s Test against Australia which is a sign of Gregor Townsend starting to tinker with combinations in his new team. I was particularly interested to see a new hooker coming into the fold after a two try effort by Ross Ford last weekend.
In comparison Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has only made one change to Australia’s starting side with Henry Speight ruled out and rookie Eto Nabuli taking his position to become Wallaby No.908.
Cheika is also looking to build combinations among a young and inexperienced Test side. To give you an idea of just how inexperienced the team is, in the 2015 World Cup final Australia fielded 834 Test caps at an average of 55.6 per person in the starting side and this weekend will field just 445 Test caps at an average of just 29.7. This effectively means that every starting player has 26 less caps than two years ago. Talk about a changing of the guard.
The continuity of people and position as well as the home ground advantage should see the Wallabies through this weekend but only if they dominate in key positions.
Scotland will field a forward pack that hasn’t been touched by the British and Irish Lions tour and will compete extremely hard at set piece and at the breakdown. With two teams keen to play a quick and expansive game the breakdown may just hold the key to who gets up on the day.
The best match up in the forwards is between Jonny Gray and Adam Coleman. Johnny Gray is very unlucky to miss a spot on the Lions tour, he is a classic hard working lock and his defence is excellent. In the six nations this year he attempted 58 tackles in and did not miss one. Not one! Put this up against the fire and brimstone approach of Adam Coleman and you have a fantastic battle.
In the backs there is one key match-up that is looking to be a cracker and that is Finn Russell versus Bernard Foley. These two 10s are very similar players. Both love taking the ball to the line, can pass well on both sides and have smart rugby heads on their shoulders.
Watching these two steer their respective ships will be something to keep an eye on while the forwards bludgeon each other this weekend.