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'Playing smarter rugby': Why Wallabies have a good chance of breaking England drought

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10th November, 2021
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It was a disappointing result against the Wallabies bogey team the Scots on the weekend. However, there are a lot of positives to take from that performance, the clunky win against the Japanese, and the previous four wins against South Africa and Argentina.

This coming weekend, the Wallabies stare down the barrel at an eighth consecutive loss against the old enemy. To put it in perspective, the overall total stands at 25 wins to Australia, 25 to England and one draw. Whoever wins this match gets the overall bragging rights.

I think this time may be different from the last seven very poor performances. This time, we are actually playing smarter tactics with more emphasis on kicking for territory and that makes us competitive against any team in the world.

If you look back to the last time we beat the English in 2015, it was a much different story. It was a brilliant performance from the Wallabies, winning 33-13 in Twickenham to knock the Poms out of their own World Cup in the group stages. In that match this is what happened:

Kicks to opposition 22 in general play
England: 4
Australia: 8

We played some smart rugby. Matt Giteau and Bernard Foley in particular put in an excellent kicking performance that gave us the territorial advantage to let other parts of our game flourish.


However, flash forward to the last time we played the English in a 40-16 thumping in the quarter-finals of the World Cup and you will get a different story.

At this point, we were still in the late Michael Cheika era of rugby with his anti-kicking, run-the-ball-at-all-costs philosophy. In that match the English kicked the ball into our 22 seven times from general play, putting us under great territorial pressure. The Wallabies kicked the ball… zero times into the English 22 from general play.

Watching the replay, it’s almost unbelievable. Similar to watching the tactics of a team of 12-year-olds versus a professional rugby team.

The idea of ‘running rugby’ and the ‘Australian way’ that were both coined in the late Cheika era have left a noticeable footprint on the way all professional Australian rugby teams play today.

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In the first week of the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, our Super Rugby teams lost every match and here is how often we kicked for territory versus the Kiwis:

Average kicks to opposition 22 in general play per match
NZ teams: 5.8
Australia: 2

We kept up our running tactics against the All Blacks. I counted the kicks in the last game (38-21 to the Kiwis):

Kicks from general play to the opposition 22
Australia: 1
New Zealand: 7

But finally, Dave Rennie and the Wallabies made some tactical changes against the Springboks.

Dave Rennie

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

With the rejuvenated Quade Cooper at 10, we started playing more territory against South Africa and slightly out kicked them in the brilliant 30-17 win at Suncorp:


Kicks from general play to the opposition 22
Australia: 8
South Africa: 7

In fact, in the six-game run (five wins and one narrow loss) since playing the All Blacks, we have averaged over six kicks into the opposition 22 per match. A massive difference to how we played in Trans Tasman, against the All Blacks and the last match against England.

In the match against Japan, we kicked to the 22 five times and the Brave Blossoms played far too bravely, not once kicking the ball to our 22. Even though we didn’t play great all round, we ended with a comfortable win because we played in the right areas.

Against Scotland, the Wallabies and the Scots kicked to the 22 seven times apiece. It was a tight match; nothing really went right for the Wallabies and it really could have gone either way. However, because we were playing smarter rugb,y we gave ourselves every chance of winning. In the late Cheika era, there is no way we would have finished within 2 points.

The Wallabies definitely still have a long way to go, but it looks like we are actually playing some smart rugby again.

For this reason, we have every chance of breaking the drought against the old enemy in what shapes up to be a tight encounter.

Can’t wait!