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Before the Ireland series, I was optimistic that the Wallabies could create an upset and win 3–0 so I could feel a bit better about 3-0 whitewash by England back in 2016.
However, I was also preparing myself for the possibility of the exact opposite happening.
There I was, nervously awaiting the first Test with all the hype and build-up, with flashes of the Scotland game last November still playing in my head.
After the final whistle of the first Test, I had an unusual feeling; something I don’t feel very often after a Wallabies game: relived mostly, but I was also feeling a bit proud of the team and quietly confident that we could win the series against the world’s No.2 team.
Now that the dust has settled, and emotions are back to normal, it’s as good a time as any to get some perspective.
I for one am in a far better state than I was before the first game. It’s never easy to lose and it will go down as a historic series loss, but there was a lot to like about the men in gold and I’m hoping they will only improve.
The most significant improvements were in kickoffs and re-starts, defusing high balls, defence, set pieces (the scrum in particular), and in attack.
While there’s room for further improvement, these were areas of weakness not very long ago.
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Australia must further improve further during the Rugby Championship, specifically by fixing some weaknesses which are causing them to lose games they could win.
Let’s look at what they need to focus on fixing.
This weakness needs immediate attention and improvement if the Wallabies are going to beat good teams consistently.
Apart from goal kicking and kick offs, all other aspects off the boot lack variation, accuracy and creativity. Giving Bernard Foley only kick offs, restarts and goal kicking would help improve this exit kicking, although in Super Rugby some of his kicks to Israel Folau near the tryline have been good.
If Foley can execute accurately he should continue with that.
2. One-off forward runners and running from a standing start in attack
This is the most frustrating weakness, as it kills attacking momentum.
The Wallabies have been guilty of doing this for quite some time now. This tactic results in a turnover more often than not.
3. Protecting our own ball at the breakdown
Even with David Pocock in the team, the Wallabies only barely manage. This again slows the momentum of the attack or even worse, leads to turnovers or penalties.
I’m a Michael Hooper fan, and while this is not one of his strengths, modern rugby has moved on from this being the core responsibility of the No 7.
The entire forward pack needs to focus on this – sometimes even the backs – but the fact is that it remains an area which needs improvement.
4. Game and referee management
The Wallabies often find themselves playing too much rugby in their own half and, as a result, hand over easy possession by a dropped ball to put themselves under pressure, concede a breakdown turnover, or give away a penalty and concede points.
Knowing when to kick and when to run the ball will help them to relieve pressure and put them in the right area of the field to maximise their attack, which is working well.
Hooper and all the stand-in captains need to improve on managing the referee better as well.
5. Decision making
This is perhaps the main difference between winning and losing a close game, at which the All Blacks are the masters – you can count on their 23 making the right decision nine times out of ten.
Along with their skill levels, this is the main reason the Aussies are where they are. What worries me is that this lacks in most areas, especially when the Wallabies are under pressure.
Offloading when it’s not on, when to kick for goal and when to kick for touch are among the most common errors being made.
I’m under no illusion that these can be fixed overnight, but they can be fixed, and results will follow.