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The Thursday rugby two-up: Break out the scorecards

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10th November, 2021
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Well, our teams are all underway in the north, and it’s wins and losses and some fairly up and down performances across the lot.

Some teams will be happy with the first outing in Europe, while other will be left scratching their heads about various different elements of what they showed.

New Zealand, obviously, are now a game ahead having played Wales the week before, but all the same question marks would apply after beating Italy well enough, if perhaps not as comfortably as plenty would’ve expected.

Meanwhile, Argentina struck more trouble in France, and South Africa got it done by playing a bit more rugby than Wales and keeping their fans on the right side of the fence.

And the Wallabies. Well, we love the Wallabies, don’t we.

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But with everyone now back in action again in ‘the norf’, it’s time to pass some judgements on how they’re going…

Question 1: Not actually a question. Give your team a score out of ten for their first game of the Autumn Nations Series in Europe (or first and second game, in the case of New Zealand).

Digger
For a combined score from the matches against Wales and Italy I would personally give the All Blacks an eight.

I thought the Welsh performance was excellent and while many were disappointed in the Italian job, it was a very different side which took the pitch that day and we do have a habit of looking down one’s nose at the Italians.

Quinn Tupaea of New Zealand All Blacks challenged by Marco Riccioni of Italy during the Autumn Nations Series 2021 match between Italy and New Zealand All Blacks at Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy on 6 November 2021. (Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

(Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

But it shouldn’t be forgotten they are a fully professional side with players exposed to strong and established international and club competitions.

Sure, we as New Zealanders tend to expect more but it was still a comfortable win as clunky as it was. I think we expect too much from the All Blacks at times, but I suppose that pressure does help in keeping standards high.

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It’s an eight so far from me, though it will be the next two games which will define the success of this tour.

Harry
It’s been a long time since South Africa won a rugby match in Cardiff.

Yes, there are a few good reasons, but excuses aren’t my cup of tea. A win was the thing needed. An outcome. A result. Process can kiss my hairy arse.

So, on a filthy rainy night in Wales, with five starters out, a director of rugby in the dock, and two false fire alarms the morning of the Test, the job was a W in Wales. Job done.

Scrum ascendancy, a mad hare chase, yet another old star named Steyn (“I’ve never lost here,” Frans added in his player of the game interview) and sticky defence preventing tries, with an assist from a sauced local.

Seven out of ten. We should beat Wales, weakened as they are, and by more than five. Chances were wasted.

Lukhanyo Am of the Springboks preaprares for a restart with teammates

(Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Geoff
I’m giving the All Blacks 5.5 for their first fortnight’s work, averaging out an eight for the match against Wales, and a three for Italy.

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The good news is the meaningful score skews higher, because the Wales match has more relevance to what will go down against Ireland and France in the remaining two matches.

Many of the side that played Italy won’t be seen again on this tour, and it’s not worth getting too angsty about one of those days when a whole lot of things came together to make it a difficult experience for everyone, including fans.

The Wallabies rate a four, below par because they lost a game they could easily have won if not for some poor discipline and the virtual non-appearance of their key power forward.

But no lower because, despite their own failings, they still came within two points of a good Scottish side.

Brett
The Wallabies get a five after the loss to Scotland. I’ve left the Japan game out for this exercise, given it was two and a half weeks ago.

And in truth, I was going to round up to six by giving exactly the reasons laid out in Geoff’s last par directly above, but this week’s running order made that a bit awkward.

Scotland's Matt Fagerson and Australia's Tom Wright clash during the Autumn Internationals match at BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. Picture date: Sunday November 7, 2021. See PA story RUGBYU Edinburgh. Photo credit should read: Steve Welsh/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only, no commercial use without prior consent from rights holder. (Photo by Steve Welsh/PA Images via Getty Images)

(Photo by Steve Welsh/PA Images via Getty Images)

Regardless, five is about the mark because as we all discussed on Tuesday, the Murrayfield performance was about bang on average.

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Sadly, this was another case of self-inflicted gunshots to the feet while on European turf, and all the good things the Wallabies did do in the game were neatly cancelled out by the same number of dunderheaded things they did.

So many things that were going well suddenly aren’t. What was up is rapidly down again.

But, they now have two remaining chances to rectify this.

If they wouldn’t mind.

Nobes
My score is a five. The Pumas improved some aspects of the game, but others could not.

I found improvements in defence, scrum, and attitude. The deficits came from the side of discipline, inability to attack, and misuse of the foot.

Once again, a yellow card earned in a stupid way in the best moment for the team took everyone off their focus.

Forward momentum could not be created and ended up with either many penalties in attack or a desperate kick into the hands of dangerous French backs.

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Argentina sing their national anthem in Queensland

(Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

Question 2: With all said and done above, what’s the easy fix for this weekend’s games, then? What’s the one thing your team must do better this weekend?

Digger
Selecting the team that started against Wales is the easy solution for a start, but in all seriousness, seeing the game plan employed against Wales against what appears to be stiffer challenges to come will be ideal, as I am not yet satisfied we have really fixed our breakdown issues.

I would also suggest a rethink around having all three of Richie Mo’unga, Beauden Barrett and Damian McKenzie in the same 23.

Personally, I think a bigger, harder runner such as Braydon Ennor may prove more valuable, especially given the versatility of the All Blacks’ back line.

I would even consider a 6-2 bench for the Irish with perhaps a Luke Jacobson or Shannon Frizell into the 23 for what promises to be a fairly robust match.

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Harry
To get an eight or nine, the Boks need to win with three to four tries scored and less than two conceded.

This will mean an even better lineout, quicker decisions, and peripheral vision. When Cobus Reinach weaved through the Welsh defence, all he needed to do was peer left — he had two speedsters in the saddle.

Eben Etzebeth probably was onside for his disallowed try assist, but he should have made it clearer to the ref.

And passes need to be on target at Murrayfield.

Geoff
To state the bleeding obvious, the All Blacks have to play more like they did against Wales than they did against Italy.

Ireland always bring intensity and urgency. Don’t play into their strengths by being sitting ducks in the midfield.

Man up at the breakdown, execute clinically at set piece, tackle accurately, absorb the pressure and the partisan crowd, and the running opportunities will eventually come.

The Wallabies’ scrum has been sound all year, yet here we are entering a Test against England with concerns.

Taniela Tupou of Australia scores a try

(Photo by Kenta Harada/Getty Images)

The work will definitely have needed to go in this week. I’d also like to see more line-out ball off the back, opening up attack variations in the English 22.

First-up tackling needs to improve. Better cohesion between nine, ten and 12.

Did I answer the question correctly? Does that all count as one thing?

Brett
The Wallabies must fix the scrum. Pure and simple.

And once they’re convinced they fixed what went wrong at Murrayfield, they then need to review the changes completely and methodically, and fix it again. They will not be able spend too much time looking at the scrum.

But this is going to be a problem. The Wallabies have not one but two tightheads racing the clock to pass the return to play protocols, with Allan Ala’alatoa in the same boat as Taniela Tupou.

Allan Alaalatoa of Australia looks on from the sinbin after being shown a yellow card during the Autumn Nations Series match between Scotland and Australia at Murrayfield Stadium on November 07, 2021 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Hence London Irish and former Western Force prop Ollie Hoskins coming into camp in London this week.

Unfortunately, the scrum isn’t the only thing that needs attention after the Scotland loss.

But a functioning set piece will give the Wallabies’ pack a significant confidence boost, and hopefully that might then help give the ball-carrying a bit of an intensity boost, and then perhaps they might get a bit more front foot ball, and then maybe… you know, everything else as well.

Nobes
The three most immediate things to improve are:

Discipline. Players cannot continue to generate penalties in the way they have been doing. Beyond the quantity it is in the moments and places of the field where they are generated.

Second, get comfortable with the ball again. The Pumas are not comfortable with the ball because they cannot generate danger or advance on the field of play.

Finally, and not going into other details, improve the use of the foot. The kicks that have to go out must go out and those that must remain inside the field of play must do so but must be more precise to be able to press the opposite team so they make mistakes.

It seems to me that the little experience of Santiago Carreras in a key position as flyhalf is taking a toll on the whole team.

Just looking at who and with what experience the other teams have covered that position, it seems to me unreasonable that a player who plays wing or fullback all year in his team can adapt quickly and successfully to the new position.

There are exceptional players who can do it, but for now Carreras is an earthly player.

Over to you: How are you rating your team’s start to the Spring tour?

And what’s the easy fix for your team ahead of this weekend?

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