As we all sat back and exhaled deeply at another marginal loss it wasn’t just the scoreline that had us all frustrated. Although brilliant in moments, the Wallabies failed in key parts of the game.
Here are four things the Wallabies need to change.
1. Too wide, too early
At the 30-second mark, after a box kick reception, the Wallabies decided to go wide from their first breakdown of the game. An out-the-back play from James Slipper saw Matt To’omua throw a cutout pass to find Marika Koroibete on the sideline.
The move saw Hunter Paisami 25 metres away from the ad line. Australia failed to exploit a gaping hole in the midfield and it left the Wallabies exposed to a turnover in the phases that followed: a game plan Wallabies supporters have seen all too often in recent history.
The saying ‘earn the right to go wide’ rings in the ears of anyone that has played the game. Why do the Wallabies insist on abandoning this logic?
An extra phase off Jake Gordon or a forward runner on either side of Noah Lolesio could have provided clean ball and options to To’omua, Lolesio and Tom Banks on both sides of the ruck against a scrambling French defence.
2. Adjusting tempo based on-field position
The Wallabies seem to have one pace when playing in all areas of the field and that’s 100 miles an hour. This has been a factor since the 2015 World Cup (the last time it truly worked) when we had an incredibly experienced and predominantly Waratahs back line that had played thousands of minutes of footy together.
If you found yourself frustrated at the unforced errors in Game 2, this one’s for you.
Structure stems from the speed a team is playing at. Eighty per cent of rugby is chipping away until there is an opportunity to throw the ball around, something our All Blacks rivals do incredibly well.
Quick ball and fast passes every phase will lead to sideways running, turnovers, knock-ons and it makes teams very susceptible to counter attacks, hence a few of our questionable scorelines over the past years.
The Wallabies need to slow down, control the pace of the game, win in the basic areas of the ruck and use quick ball as a way to exploit defensive lapses by our opposition.
3. Accuracy at set piece, especially in big moments
Although there is a lot to praise in the Australian forward pack, buckling in big moments is resulting in big consequences.
Our front-row efforts at scrum time led by Taniela Tupou and some great driving mauls set up by the whole pack are overshadowed by three overthrows at the lineout in Game 1, two lineout losses on the French try line in Game 2, and a scrum pushed over, which decided the game on Tuesday night.
We need our specialist forwards to be better in big moments. Scrum penalties and lineout losses can be forgiven from time to time as they are a part of the game.
However, when we need to be accurate, we are not. These areas clearly just need more work, it’s as simple as that.
4. Pressure at the ruck
Refereeing and ruck infringements aside for a moment, the Wallabies are leaving too much space between the ball runner and the cleanout. This can be the result of playing too wide, but the Wallabies consistently struggled to secure the breakdown throughout the game.
When the ball is being run by forwards close to the ruck the space between defenders is very tight, providing the opposing side with opportunities to steal the ball. Our forward running pods need to ensure there is no space when cleaning out. A few firm Australian shoulders against French bodies will ensure a second thought when considering a steal in Game 3.
If the Wallabies can start winning the contest at the breakdown our playmakers (nine, ten, 12 and 15) can return tempo to the game and ensure Australia play the style of footy we all know and love.
Although improvement starts internally and the Wallabies need to be better in these areas, it is hard to completely overlook the poor officiating.
The French executed technical infringements continuously throughout the game that went un-policed and heavily impacted Australia’s fluidity: rolling into the ruck entry, not releasing tackled players and being offside to name a few.
The repetition of these infringements indicates it was part of the French game plan, and the less it was noticed the more it occurred. Here is a snippet of Australian phase play at the 18th minute mark, which highlights this law-bending masterclass perfectly.
If the Wallabies can improve in these four areas, our talent will do the rest.