He was quick to dismiss two of his three tries against Argentina as really only needing to fall over the try line, but Andrew Kellaway’s first try on Saturday night instantly became the poster-moment for so many great developments in the Wallabies’ winning home season.
You’ll walk a long, lonely road trying to find a rugby fan that doesn’t love a well-planned and well-executed set piece try, and that’s exactly what Kellaway’s first was.
The Wallabies ran the same lineout play in the 26th minute, but the transition from Pete Samu at the top of the lineout to Michael Hooper as the ripper wasn’t smooth – Folau Fainga’a nearly over-ran Hooper, and Valetini was flat-footed and confronted by two defenders when the pass arrived. Kellaway was in the frame, but his run was killed by the lineout delay, too.
Next time around in the 34th minute, with Puma lock Thomas Lavanini still in the naughty chair and the lineout further out, the Wallabies got their timing right.
Hooper got clean ball from Darcy Swain at the back and had the ball ready for Fainga’a’s wrap run. With more pace on the play, Fainga’a was able to draw a defender, which instantly put Valetini in more space with just an inside shoulder in front of him.
Kellaway took the inside lane again and actually had to navigate the back of the Argentinean lineout to get through.
But he did get through and was in perfect position as Valetini burst through the front line. Both of them were barely past the 22m when Fainga’a started celebrating the inevitable try, which Kellaway finished off superbly after Valetini probably passed to his left a touch early.
Pumas winger Matias Moroni had time to turn back on Kellaway, but the Wallaby’s speed and balance was too good, allowing him to get over the line untouched. Valetini finished his support run under the posts, the same spot he would have scored the try if he were a more selfish player than he is.
The front on replays show several Australian backs in the background throwing a triumphant arm in the air the moment Kellaway took the pass.
It was set-piece play of the most arousing kind.
Kellaway told Stan Sport after the match of gaining some perspective after leaving Australia to play abroad – again paying tribute to his time with Premiership club Northampton, something he’s regularly done since first pulling on a Wallabies jersey – and said simply, “I’m really happy at the moment and maybe it’s showing in how I’m playing”.
There’s a real humility to Kellaway now, something that wasn’t always the case when he first burst on the scene as an Under-20s star, and something that runs almost completely counter to his on-field confidence.
He played down his second and third tries, but the second one still required him to beat a man in front of him after taking another Valetini pass and take the covering defender with him over the line. The third one saw him cross untouched after a tasty Len Ikitau flick pass.
Kellaway might see his role as a minor part in a scoring play, but are plenty of Australian wingers at the moment that wouldn’t have finished those tries nearly as well as he did. More than a few of his eight tries in nine Tests simply wouldn’t have been scored at all; it’s that obvious.
And it’s also pretty clear that his was one of the last names scribbled down when the first Wallabies squad of the year was named ahead of the France series back in July.
“He’s got a nose for the line, hasn’t he?” Dave Rennie said post-match, ever the master of understatement.
“Look, he’s been excellent, and to be honest, he wasn’t in our plans about a month before we named the squad.
“But he came back to the Rebels and played really well, and we didn’t have an option who could be a 15, 14, 13, and once he’s got his opportunity he’s impressed and he’s a consistent part of the starting line-up now.
“It’s a real credit to ‘Kells’, he’s been really impressive and keeps getting better.”
Kellaway’s return to the Melbourne Rebels for Super Rugby trans-Tasman after the Japanese season had concluded spoke of this very versatility Rennie refers to. He missed the first game but got better with each game as he filled whatever hole the Rebels had over the next month, wearing jerseys 14, 23, 22, and 13 in the respective games.
He only scored the one try for the Rebels, but it was very similar to his second on Saturday night; he took a pass in traffic on the left edge, got past the first Chiefs defender, and had another one on him as he got the ball down.
But this finishing ability has long been part of his game, and it’s given the Wallabies a new angle of attack that defending teams need to keep an eye on. It’s not all through 10 and 12 in midfield now, and it’s not all geared toward wherever Marika Koroibete chooses to pop up.
And even better still, Kellaway has finished tries everywhere on the field this year. 14 on his back, 11 on his back; it doesn’t matter. He finished the game at fullback for the last half an hour or so on Saturday night, and was running that same second-man-in line that fullbacks traditionally occupy for both his second and third try, with Reece Hodge on his outside having shuffled to the left wing.
I’d love to see him spend more time at fullback and Rennie thinks he could play outside centre, too. It’s all good.
And of course, he’s not the lone highlight in what has been a really, really good year for the Wallabies.
Valetini didn’t quite work as well at no.8 for the Brumbies this year, but he’s been excellent since moving there during the Bledisloe Tests. Isack Rodda’s work rate is fantastic, and he’s now back to his usual and mostly unnoticeable best. Nic White took a few weeks, but he’s well and truly confirmed he’s the no.1 number nine in the country. Quade Cooper’s return to international rugby speaks for itself and continues to test superlative stocks.
And after pointing out the almost damming effect the Wallabies midfield was having on possession a few weeks ago, it’s been great to see the Kerevi-Ikitau centre pairing take some significant steps in these last few wins. Ikitau has noticeably grown in confidence in attack in that time, and that’s only further enhancing his defence.
I can’t think when or even if the Wallabies last approached a Spring Tour with a six and four record from the home Tests, and their current form line gives the squad and supporters good reason to feel optimistic about a successful return from the north.
Yes, injuries will obviously play a role in just how successful the tour is, but the growing depth is also such that it’s still plausible to see alternate options working similarly well, if not exactly the same as the current first choices.
There’s a growing feeling that the Wallabies are developing a solid platform, for which anyone can drop into, and the team will still go pretty well.
And that’s a feeling we’ve not had in these parts for some time, too.