James O’Connor’s path to the No.15 position with the Wallabies looks all but certain after incumbent Tom Banks fractured his forearm in the stirring 30-17 win over the Springboks on Saturday.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie spoke about O’Connor’s likely return against Argentina next week, and praised his coaching staff and the “courage shown under pressure” of his players against the World Champions.
Here’s what Rennie said at his post-match press conference
On what beating South Africa twice in two games means
“All of this is so important, because we will get a real clear understanding of who we represent,” said Rennie.
“We want to get the country behind us and you’ve got to give them performances to make them proud of.
“Hopefully, we’ve made a start on that. It certainly gives us belief. We’ve always felt that the game that we’re trying to play is the right type of game for our group and it’s great to get a couple of results.”
On the difference to what happened in the 3-0 loss to the All Blacks
“South Africa have such a tough side,” said Rennie. “We talked a lot about it during the week that we wanted to back up last week’s performance with another strong performance.
“We defended well, our defensive maul was much better.
“We talked a lot about discipline, but I thought we were clinical, and against New Zealand, we created lots of opportunities, but we’d turn it over and get punished. And tonight, we were good enough to take those opportunities.
“We had a few tough weeks when we played New Zealand, and most of those problems came from turnovers.
“When we were inaccurate we got hurt. This is a good reward because there’s been a huge amount of work gone in from the defence group.
“We know the Springboks are going to come through the middle but we tackled well, we had a real presence post tackle and turned over a bit of pill from counteracting.”
On conceding 17 penalties to 10
“We’ll have a look at this stuff. And we’ll give [referee Matt Carley] feedback. Some of it you can’t argue with. We felt we were prettycomfortable around defending and we just need to be really disciplined around that. We need to be better.”
On the Lachie Swinton yellow card decision
“He’s got an arm up in the tackle,” said Rennie. “He just got caught upright and because he’s upright, there’s contact head on head and he’s responsible as the tackler. So we’ve got to accept that and he’s got to be better.
“But we’re plucking out one example. [Physicality] is a strong area of his game and you just have to be accurate.
“I would say Marika’s gone in to make that tackle, the guy’s [Duane Vermeulen] stepped and all of a sudden, he’s in Lachie’s face, and he hasn’t had a lot of time to react. But we can’t bring the ref into the game through those sorts of actions, so we’ve got to be better.”
On Quade Cooper’s restraint at No.10
“We want to play but we’re also playing against a side that doesn’t want the ball so we’ve talked a lot about giving them the ball and ideally in situations where when they kick we can profit off it,” Rennie explained
“We still didn’t do a good enough job around the high ball and that’s got to be better. But I think Quade’s been really disciplined.
“He’s got a clear understanding of what we’re trying to put on the park and when it’s on to play he’s playing. But he’s certainly getting us around the park and I was really happy with the way he defended the second half – chopped really well and we’re very happy with him.”
Rennie was asked to critique Cooper’s kicking game.
“His goalkicking, his general kicking – I’m still at him about his kick offs – has been excellent,” said Rennie
“He’s contributing in lots of ways. His experience has been invaluable and it’s fantastic for him that he backed up last week. It wasn’t a one off. It was important he had a big game again for us tonight.”
On Tom Banks’ injury and the likely return of James O’Connor
“Yeah, it’s a fracture so it’s a good sort of six week plus injury,” Rennie said of Banks. “I feel for Tom. And we’ll get a little bit of clarity around whether it will impact on the end of year tour.
“We have a number of considerations [as replacement], but it’s great to have ‘Rabs’ back in the mix. He’s ready to go. He’s come back in fantastic nick. Again, another very experienced player, and we’ll we’ll make a call around that over the next couple of days.”
On defending the rolling maul
The Springboks scored three tries from rolling mauls in the first clash and Rennie said midweek they had been working counteracting the Boks’ potency. Their work clearly paid off.
“Obviously [forwards coach] Dan McKellar is the most excited about that,” Rennie said.
“He’s done an excellent job with that pack. Last week we made some system errors, individual errors, and we got punished against a good side.
“That was impressive tonight because it’s an area that guys like Taniela and others have been working really hard on. We defended that really well and it was crucial.
On the two-try performance of rookie Len Ikitau
“It’s awesome isn’t it? He was with us last year, didn’t get a minute of footy, went away and worked really hard and made good shifts in his game,” said Rennie.
“He played a lot of footy for the Brumbies has now come in and really established himself. We’re starting to create depth now.
“Hunter Paisami’s back in the mix but unfortunatley Matt Toomua’s left the squad with a concussion.
“Lenny’s been excellent. He’s got a great skill set. Really good feet, big defender good left foot and he’s getting better and better.”
On potential changes for next week
“We’ve talked about earning the right to play,” said Rennie. “If guys are fronting on Saturday, then chances are they’re gonna be close to the mix the following week.
“We’ve had a good look at Argentina. There may be a couple of tweaks to personnel based on what we think is going to be important. But of course we want to reward guys who have been playing well.”