After an extremely impressive start to the Bledisloe Cup, I was looking forward to the second Test with anticipation and trepidation.
My trepidation increased when my old teammate and good friend David Campese suggested a few days prior to the second Test that the All Blacks had lost their aura – My God Campo – what were you thinking? Only a back would say such a thing!
So, what went wrong?
No. 1: Australia did not take penalty kicks for goal when they were on offer.
This is a schoolboy error and is what one would euphemistically call a triumph of hope over experience. What happened? The Wallabies kicked for the sideline and lost the ball from the ensuing lineout.
Again, the impact of gaining three points is not to be underestimated. It obviously shortens any deficit but also gives the players a much-needed rest, and confidence. The buck stops with the captain on this one.
The fact of the matter is that when the first kickable penalty in the All Blacks half was awarded to Australia, the Wallabies were right in the game. The sad thing is that this error in failing to kick for goal was made more than once.
No. 2: The omission of Reece Hodge from the starting XV.
While in no way denigrating Tom Banks, the simple fact is that Reece Hodge is our best (and possibly only) long-range kicker.
In the dim mists of time, I was playing in a series against the All Blacks when I gave a penalty away (yes I was cheating but, in my defence, I was an openside flanker) well inside All Black territory. While disappointed in giving away a penalty, I was not overly perturbed until a skinny bloke called Allen Hewson, No. 15 for the All Blacks, stepped up to take a long-range kick at goal.
Yes, he kicked the damn goal and made it look easy. From memory, I think we lost the game by a point.
The impact of such kicks and the benefit of long-range accurate kickers cannot be understated. Suddenly, the temptation to get an added advantage becomes less attractive when you know that you are likely to give three points away.
No. 3: Substituting Taniela Tupou.
Unlike the All Blacks, the Wallabies do not have the same amount of game-breakers or depth. Tupou is such a weapon. He is an excellent scrummager and one of the few forwards in Australia who actually run onto the ball at pace when it is passed to him. We cannot afford to take such a dynamic runner off the field.
No 4: The Wallabies are getting beaten at the breakdown. If the Wallabies cannot rectify this, Australia cannot hope to win the Bledisloe Cup.
No. 5: The aggressive, co-ordinated and targeted rush defence that the Wallabies employed so effectively in the first Test (reminiscent of England’s efforts in the last Rugby World Cup semi-final against New Zealand) was absent.
Overall, the Wallabies tackling was very poor but was a consequence of being on the back foot.
No 6: The Wallabies support play is too slow and simply not good enough.
This contributes to the turnover rate and must be improved significantly if the Wallabies are to win the next test.
So, what are Australia’s chances in the third Test?
I am optimistic. Our backs are against the wall and I would not write these Wallabies off. They showed tremendous character in the first Test so we know that it is within them.
No doubt David Rennie and co. will be working overtime to remedy the deficiencies exposed by the All Blacks in the second Test.
At the end of the day, the enemy is within and how each and every player will deal with that enemy will be the key.