Their lineout didn’t always deliver, their scrum experienced pressure, they had first choice players out injured and they didn’t always take the points available.
So how was it that Ireland was able to break down the World Champions and deliver a historic first-ever victory over the All Blacks on Irish soil? Furthermore, why had the Wallabies – who themselves have a dubious lineout, an unspectacular scrum and are criticised for not taking points on offer – rarely caused the All Blacks great concern this season?
Firstly, is that the Irish, as opposed to the Wallabies, had the right attitude. Joe Schmidt’s men had no fear of playing the All Blacks and welcomed the challenge presented by the vein expanding Kapa o Pango haka delivered post anthems.
Too often Wallaby forwards find themselves second in the physicality contest when playing All Black hardman Brodie Retallick and co, but both Irish lock Devin Toner and Hooker Rory Best rocked Retallick with shuddering defense that no doubt unsettled the big man and sent the required message.
Mentally the Wallabies and Irish are in two different spaces. The Irish played like a team that knew it could win, the Wallabies when playing the All Blacks played like a team that would like to win.
Secondly, the Irish often chose the ground where the contest was to be fought through their astute decision making. The Irish gave the All Blacks nothing but pressure in both attack and defense.
When the Irish exit their 22 their preferred method is by the box kick that either finds touch or is legally contested. When the All Blacks regained the ball, they were often suffocated by the chase and could not launch their potent counter attack with as much ease as they found against the Wallabies earlier in the year, who appear to have consigned chasing a kick to that of the scrum cap, something of antiquity.
It is a damning indictment on the Wallaby coaching staff that the Wallabies consistently kick the ball back to the opposition uncontested as part of an accepted strategy.
Thirdly, the Irish rarely waste possession and achieve small incremental gains by setting up simple, yet effective running options that can be executed by any player. The Irish played flat on the gain line, not far from the passer, and supported a potential runner with another flat option or a shallow second man play which was just enough to keep the All Blacks guessing.
This structure was complemented by the Irish taking the ball into contact with ferocious momentum and ‘Brockhoff required body-height’ that put the All Blacks on the back foot far sooner than the Wallabies were able to achieve in this year’s Bledisloe contest.
The Irish are not impervious to playing with width, in fact, they looked to put their wingers Stockdale and Earls into space as often as possible with the caveat that they did not receive the ball in a more disadvantageous space that the passer.
The Irish attack is championed by New Zealand convert Bundee Aki who either takes the ball over the gain line or is the receiver of the short second man pass from Johnny Sexton, who sets the foundation of the attack by taking on the line or looping as a dummy runner or second distributor.
Sexton is an exponent of simple rugby executed with precision. Both Sexton and Aki do not look to work far away from their support players which facilitates the recycle and places the opposition under immediate defensive pressure.
In the 208 passes by the Irish on the weekend 30 of those were second man, out-the-back passes but the beauty of those Irish passes is they were short passes, delivered from a flat runner to another flat receiver. The Irish do not entertain long passing behind the gain line that can invite interceptions and unwelcomed pressure on the receiver.
Conversely, the Wallabies look for the width with greater urgency than the Irish who seek it incrementally. The Wallabies have been guilty of standing too deep and playing too wide causing themselves grief and too often working several phases just to get back to the gain line. There is no long-term future with such rugby.
To their credit, the Wallabies were much smarter with their use of the ball on the weekend and played much flatter that yielded them some fantastic field position and scoring opportunities on which some were capitalised upon. None better than the first Koroibete try. However, unlike the Irish, the Wallabies do entertain long second man passes and set up their attacking pods too far from the passer that pressurises the receiver unnecessarily and heightens the risk of intercept.
The width in the Wallaby attacking structure is an issue. It would appear Michael Cheika is infatuated with the dual openside flanker, dual playmaker system as he appears to want to run the opposition off the park by stretching them.
I see no winning future in this brand of rugby in the current international environment and I warn despite some encouraging enterprise against the Italians he should look at how the South African’s and the Irish defeated the All Blacks, and how they English came perilously close to doing so.
They played flat and use a big bodied centre like Aki, De Allende or Te’o to great effect. Samu Kerevi is the ideal man for the role and illustrated against the Italians how effective he can be playing flat on the advantage line and I reassert my support for the selection of Kerevi at 12 and Petaia in the 13-jumper next week.
Both the Irish and the Wallabies should be congratulated for their victories but I fear the Wallabies will be annihilated by England if they do not make subtle changes in both attack structure and at the selection table.
My matchday 23 for England
1. Alan Alalaatoa
2. Folau Fainga’a
3. Taniela Toupo
4. Isaac Rodda
5. Adam Coleman
6. Rob Valentini
7. David Pocock (C)
8. Jack Dempsey
9. Will Genia (VC)
10. Matt Toomua
11. Sef Naivalu
12. Samu Kerevi
13. Jordan Petaia
14. Israel Folau
15. Dane Haylett-Petty
16. Totafu Polota-Nau
17. Scott Sio
18. Sekope Kepu
19. Rob Simmons
20. Michael Hooper
21. Jake Gordon
22. Bernard Foley
23. Adam Ashley-Cooper