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Eight talking points from Bledisloe 2

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Roar Guru
18th August, 2019
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8860 Reads

Right. So that’s what it feels like to have your hope, optimism and dreams stamped on by 15 angry Kiwis.

Over the past week there has been a growing sense of what could be amongst fans of the Wallabies and perhaps even the players themselves. After the massive win in Perth, maybe, just maybe this was the year when the Bledisloe Cup returned to Australia.

So what on earth happened?

Where did last week’s intensity go?
One of the things that fans loved so much about the performance in Bledisloe 1 was the intensity and accuracy that the Wallabies brought to the game for the full 80 minutes.

They matched the All Blacks shot for shot in the first half and then used their numerical advantage in the second half to dominate and truly kill off the Kiwis.

Surely with some more confidence from a big win and having seen the value of that intensity, the Wallabies would come out of the blocks like Usain Bolt in Eden Park.

But they didn’t. Whether it was the pressure of the occasion or their inability to go to their limits two weeks in a row or something else entirely, the Wallabies couldn’t find those same Perth levels and just couldn’t keep up with the home side.

Given how important the Bledisloe Cup is in the eyes of players and fans alike, it’s concerning that the Wallabies weren’t able to get up for this game.

Now it should be acknowledged that the All Blacks were in one of those moods where it’s almost impossible to stop them.

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But you just got the impression that while the Wallabies put up some resistance against the black waves, the capitulation of the Aussies was inevitable.

You never got the feeling that the Wallabies were going to put together 10 to 15 minutes of truly dominant play and force the All Blacks out of their comfort zone.

This doesn’t bode well for the World Cup where the Aussies are going to need at least six out of seven games in just a few weeks – all away from home – to lift the trophy.

Kieran Read

(Photo by Renee McKay/Getty Images)

Did someone lose Plan B down the back of the sofa?
It’s been said before and it’ll be said again – but the Wallabies really have to develop a Plan B.

Since all the way back in 2016 when the English whitewashed the Australians in Australia over a three-game series, there have been concerns about how the Wallabies seem to either not have a Plan B or not be able to switch to it when the needs arise.

In Eden Park, it became clear that the same tactics from Perth were not going to work.

Nic White’s sniping play that had caused the Kiwis so many problems last week was being much better policed on Saturday and the forwards were unable to give the backs any decent ball to play with.

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Also, not sure if anyone noticed, but it was pouring it down!

Despite this, at no point did the Wallabies seem to adjust their game plan. Actually to be fair, it was more alarming – when they did try and switch tactics and kick more compared to last week, their inability to kick from hand well became evident again.

The All Blacks were able to snuff out the Wallabies Plan A and then, much to their delight, the Wallabies just stuck with the same ineffective approach.

Of course it’s hard to play good rugby when your forwards are struggling but just trying to do the same thing over and over is not far off the definition of insanity.

We need to talk about Kurtley
Kurtley Beale continued to divide opinion amongst rugby fans with his performance over the past two matches. In Perth he was fantastic and people were joking “Israel who?” – but oh, how things change.

This week he had an absolute shocker and boy did the All Blacks make him suffer. As soon as he showed he was having a rough night with the high ball the Kiwis picked on him like they were some schoolyard bully picking on the new kid.

Kick after kick went up and you could almost hear the voice in Kurtley’s brain begging for mercy.

It was also worrying to see how often Beale got caught out of position when in defence. Far too often there was a lot of open grass in behind the Wallabies for the All Blacks to take advantage of and time after time the Aussies found themselves having to run or kick their way out of their own 22.

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On his day he can carve teams up but he’s having fewer and fewer of these days and this season has seen him spend far too much time crabbing sideways across the field rather than running direct at the opposition and challenging defences with his fast feet and hands.

Given that the weather was so bad and he was clearly having a tough time with the high-ball you have to wonder whether Michael Cheika started thinking about a new starting full back and having Kurtley come off the bench in the World Cup.

Unfortunately for Cheika, it’s not just his full back who is a point of concern…

Kurtley Beale

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The Wallabies’ back three aren’t good enough yet
Again, it was a tough night for all the Wallabies and the All Blacks were in fine form, but one thing that was evident is that the Wallabies really need genuine wingers to play on the wing.

Reece Hodge is not an international class winger. He’s a hard-working guy who will always give his all but he’s not a winger.

He dropped key ball, he missed more tackles than he made, he was out of position for some All Blacks’ attacks and he was done by George Bridge for pace more than once.

He’s got a great big boot on him but that can’t be the reason why the Wallabies choose a winger.

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Also of concern was the way in which the back three don’t seem to communicate as well as they need to, especially in defence.

Too often there were big gaps of grass for the All Blacks to kick into and more than once all three of the back three were up in the defensive line with apparently no thought to tell each other that perhaps one of them should think about dropping back.

Can this back row really dominate an opposition?
The Wallabies have often struggled to decide what their best approach is when it comes to the back row over the past few years.

The Hooper-Pocock debate has been the topic of many a pub debate and, you assume, selection panel meeting. With Pocock still out and potentially not coming back the team have had to look elsewhere and they just haven’t quite found the right combo yet.

Michael Hooper continues to impress with the level of effort he gives to every game but his lack of size really means he can’t break the line close to the ruck – he’s more dangerous out in the wider channels or on the shoulder of a big man.

Isi Naisarani has impressed for sure but isn’t world-class yet and then there’s Lukhan Salakaia-Loto who is going to come under a lot of scrutiny in the coming days.

Salakaia-Loto had a bad game both in defence where he let George Bridge coast through untouched and in attack where he just couldn’t counter the fast, hard-hitting Kiwi defence.

Basically – this back row doesn’t feel like it’s got any real mongrel about it. Other teams aren’t going to be really scared of it and will always fancy that they can target the Wallabies back row.

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Where’s the scrum gone?
There were some very concerning scenes at Eden Park for the Wallabies forwards. Even after Dan Coles had gone to the naughty step for pretending to be a Judo champion, the Australian scrum got monstered by a seven-man All Blacks pack.

That is not good! For all the excitement of dazzling moves by the backs, there is nothing more heart-breaking for a team than seeing their big men get absolutely dominated.

The pattern continued throughout the second half where the All Blacks knew that a scrum was a genuine chance of breaking Australian spirits and earning valuable penalties.

This has to stop immediately if the Wallabies want to challenge at the World Cup. They cannot have opposition packs thinking that they are easy to beat up and must come back with some impressive performances in the set-piece.

Tupou needs to get the ball more
Taniela Tupou had some stunning moments in the game once he came off the bench and the Wallabies need to use him more. He’s got an incredible set of hands for a big prop and he’s not slow either.

By the time he came on the game was already decided but his energy really helped lift the Aussie side and he is one of the players who will run head long into defences over and over and over again.

His scrummaging is getting better and given how poor the Aussie scrum was there is clearly a need for some improvement there but this guy is exciting and he can terrorise teams at the World Cup.

Taniela Tupou

(Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

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Don’t lose faith just yet
It’s hard to find many positive points when you’ve lost by 36 points and failed to score a single point yourself. What makes it worse is the difference between the two games just seven days apart.

But there are still reasons to keep the faith. Michael Cheika should stick with many of these players and combinations and allow them to keep developing.

Yes it’s perhaps a bit late to say that they are developing when you consider the World Cup is just weeks away but more chopping and changing is not going to help things.

The team who have played the past couple of weeks should be as near as damn it the starting fifteen in the opening games in Japan, and Cheika has to keep faith with these players.

The ones who are currently not playing – Bernard Foley for example – don’t offer anything dramatically better to warrant being brought back in and while they will likely be in the squad for Japan, they haven’t made a good enough case to be in the starting line up.

Nic White is good for the Wallabies and he’s forced Will Genia to up his game. Christian Lealiifano is good for the Wallabies too and is putting pressure on Foley and is able to bring some valuable skills to the backline that have been missing previously.

James O’Connor and Samu Kerevi could become an exciting centre pairing and O’Connor should not be dropped for Tevita Kuridrani.