Many Wallabies fans allowed ourselves to dream of Bledisloe glory, right up until – in the shadows of halftime – Aaron Smith crossed for the first of the All Blacks’ 38 points.
My biggest hope ahead of Game 2 is that Michael Cheika can get the selections right and that our injured front rowers are back.
The set piece was the largest issue, with Australia unable to hold on to the ball and then tackling themselves to a standstill, when the inevitable cracks in the defensive line appeared.
Our best player was David Pocock, who thought he was captain for a large part of the match and enjoyed a cordial rapport with referee Jaco Peyper. Next best was Lukhan Tui, who performed admirably for a lock playing out of position. I’d previously thought that Caleb Timu was hard done by, but Tui was our strongest ball carrier and deserves to retain his spot.
Michael Hooper made an impressive return from a nine-week hamstring injury but struggled to accelerate at critical times as he got fatigued. If he is not quite 100 per cent then he needs to be given more time to recover. Pete Samu is yet to show real impact off the bench so if Hooper isn’t 100 per cent, then bring Timu in.
The two biggest corrections at scrum time will only come with Taniela Tupou returning (and starting), along with Scott Sio. We are in the hands of the medicos and time on that.
Tatafu Polota-Nau really struggled with the pace of the game and should be swapped to the bench.
For the lineout, we need to bring in Rory Arnold, having our strongest own-ball contestant is going to be critical. If Hooper is to be rested then it’s critical we select a genuine eight, who can play a linking role and provide starch at the set piece. Jed Holloway is my preferred candidate.
[latest_videos_strip category=”rugby” name=”Rugby”]
In the backs, with Israel Folau out, the simplest shift will be for Dane Haylett-Petty to go to fullback, Jack Maddocks to cap his solid debut by moving to the starting wing, and the impressive Tom Banks added to the bench.
That is the fewest number of moving parts for the backline and they deserve the chance to show what they can do if the forwards can win a bit more ball. If we can’t win any ball, we might need to consider Matt Toomua in at 12 to stiffen up the midfield defence, which would see Kurtley Beale at fullback – he needs to rid himself of the errors that have plagued him back there in the past though.
Nick Phipps won’t get dropped but I would like to see Jake Gordon or Joe Powell in the 23. Gordon would be my preference given his strong running game – if we seek impact off the bench I prefer that to what the other two can bring.
If our front rowers are fit then for Eden Park I’d like to see the Wallabies front up with:
1. Scott Sio
2. Tolu Latu
3. Taniela Tupou
4. Adam Coleman
5. Rory Arnold
6. Lukhan Tui
7. David Pocock (c)
8. Jed Holloway
9. Will Genia
10. Bernard Foley
11. Marika Koroibete
12. Kurtley Beale
13. Reece Hodge
14. Jack Maddocks
15. Dane Haylett-Petty
16. Tatafu Polota-Nau
17. Alan Alaalatoa
18. Sekope Kepu
19. Izack Rodda
20. Michael Hooper / Caleb Timu
21. Jake Gordon
22. Matt Toomua
23. Tom Banks
The All Blacks remain a superb team and have one hand on the Bledisloe ahead of the match at their Eden Park fortress, but the Wallabies need to keep their heads up and improve their set piece.
What’s more, the slow runners one off the ruck that preceded their second penalty of the match highlighted that the Aussies’ fitness is not anywhere near where it should be, but let’s fix the first thing first. The Wallabies cannot afford to give away so much first phase ball again.
We are mid tournament, so changes shouldn’t be wholesale – some continuity will help the team build – and the above balances getting key personnel in with allowing some combinations to build.
What changes would fellow Roarers like to see?