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It was a great first Test match of the June internationals between Australia and Ireland in Brisbane, and all fans are surely very excited that we’ve got two more matches to enjoy over the coming weeks.
But behind the celebrations of a good win for the Wallabies, what are the talking points that need to be discussed and debated ahead of the second Test in Melbourne next Saturday?
Michael Hooper and David Pocock are two of Australia’s most important players, and fans have hoped that their reunion would be a thing of beauty and not, as has happened in the past, a surprisingly ineffective combination.
Well rest easy – Pooper is back and it works. While Pocock was arguably the star of the show in this game, the combination together seemed to work well. The Wallabies turned the ball over from the Irish 14 times, with some of these being absolutely critical as Australia looked to withstand Ireland’s attack.
What was just as nice to see as Pooper working, was Hooper not being found hanging around in the outside backs as often as he can be. He’s a great talent with good hands and a turn of pace that many centres would be envious of, but he is of more value to the Wallabies in the trenches getting the ball quickly for the likes of Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley and Israel Folau to make something happen.
Oh David, where have you been?!
Yes, Pooper worked well but even more so, Pocock reminded everyone of what Australia has been missing since he left. The guy was awesome and while he did give away a few penalties with his on the edge rucking approach, he more than made up for that with his other contributions in both defence and attack.
He just makes any side he is in better not just by his own individual performance, but he seems to genuinely make the players around him better. It’s a great battle between both the Wallabies and Irish back rows in this series and Pocock has made sure that the Aussies have drawn first blood.
Genia is in some great form
Speaking of great experience and form – Will Genia had a very good game. The clash between him and Conor Murray for the Irish is a really interesting one in this series and Genia showed in this game that he still has a lot to offer the Wallabies.
Without him the gap to Nick Phipps is huge and Michael Cheika needs the 30-year-old Rebel to stay fit and healthy.
One specific play of the game highlighted Genia’s value. In the 70th minute, Folau had taken a great high ball and the Wallabies were looking to take advantage of the moment. Knowing that the back three for the Irish were up as they had been there to compete with Folau for the high ball, Genia knew the right move was not to pass the ball out but to attack the space.
He kicked nicely over the top of the ruck and forced the Irish chasing back where they conceded a penalty and gave Australia a great scoring opportunity.
That awareness and then ability to execute those all-important plays is critical if the Wallabies want to win this Test series and threaten the best at the World Cup.
Follow the leader – but which one?
In previous seasons there has been much criticism about the lack of strong leadership among the Wallabies. Against Ireland, there was almost too much flowing around.
At one point the Wallabies had a penalty in front of the posts. They were one point behind and there were just ten minutes left. Around the ball at the time were Genia, Hooper and Pocock and it looked as if Hooper was keen to push for the try.
Genia, however, seemed to be indicating towards the post and urged his skipper to take the 3, get the lead and force the Irish to have to chase. Hooper went with that decision and history shows it worked out very well.
This could potentially be a great new strength for the Wallabies – a brain trust that makes good decisions. Or it could cause some real issues as Hooper’s usual desire to push and attack is challenged by the respected Genia and Pocock.
Let’s get physical
The Wallabies brought a level of measured physicality to their performance against the Irish that was scary. Their rush defence meant the Irish backs regularly found themselves taking man and ball and had little time to do anything too clever.
The power in the tackles was also impressive and when combined with the speed of the rush the Wallabies made their defence a genuine weapon.
Players like Adam Coleman have always been aggressive and he did cost the Aussies a couple of times with his efforts, but it was a real team commitment to hitting the Irish hard for 80 minutes that saw the second best team in the world unable to score a single try in the entire game.
Discipline an issue
That being said, the overall discipline was still a bit of a problem for the Wallabies. 11 penalties in the game isn’t the end of the world, but it was when the penalties were conceded that will frustrate Cheika.
Several of those 11 penalties gave the Irish real attacking chances or allowed them to clear with ease. If the Wallabies can cut out half of them then that will make them significantly harder to beat in Game 2.
Wallabies backs look good with the ball in hand
The threat of Folau in the air is well known to everyone and has been a weapon for the Aussies for a while. But in the Brisbane Test, the Wallabies backs showed that their ball in hand skills should not be ignored.
Several times the backs put real pace on an attack and spun the ball out wide to give their wingers space and chance to threaten. Beale and Samu Kerevi looked like a dangerous centre partnership which is great as there were questions about how well Kerevi would perform at #13, having looked so good for the Reds at #12.
There were still a few examples where the Aussies kicked the ball away poorly – hopefully there will be less of this as they recognise the threat they are with ball in hand.
Set piece ups and downs
The Aussie scrum was solid and at times really destructive against a strong Irish pack. It’s been a long time since the Wallabies could view their scrum as a weapon but that’s happening and can only be a good thing.
The lineout was less impressive though with almost 20% of them lost to the visitors. In this game it didn’t cost them anything to worry about, but if the Irish feel that the line out is a persistent weakness then come Game 2 this could cause some real pressure for the home side.
Bring on Game 2!
It was a great win for the Wallabies and such an entertaining game with both sides giving everything right until the bitter end. The next seven days can’t go fast enough so we can do it all again in Melbourne.
The Irish will want to figure out a way to threaten the Aussie try line as they won’t be able to rely purely on penalty goals, but they will come back harder and wiser so Cheika’s men will need to raise their game.