Righto Wallabies, now you’ve got me interested. And that’s not to say that I wasn’t interested in the Wallabies before or that I was planning to abandon ship anytime soon. Of course I was and of course I wasn’t, respectively.
But after wondering about positioning and defensive patterns and positioning within defensive patterns in recent weeks, and then penalties and discipline and how much ball is not enough ball for the Wallabies, it was nice to finally see something in Melbourne that shows that things may be – very, very slowly – falling into place.
Before you start scratching your head and wonder what on earth I’m about to launch into, let’s just clear a few things up about the Wallabies’ performance on the weekend.
They were, make no mistake about it, very well beaten. 38-7 was a more than fair reflection of the difference between the Wallabies and All Blacks on the night.
The Wallabies are still a long way off being able to put eighty minutes together. 19 New Zealand points in the final 21 minutes at the MCG is just the most recent confirmation of that.
Unfortunately, they still can’t put a half of rugby together, either.
They got a bit lucky that Mark Telea forget a major component required to take a quick tap in the 26th minute, and had done well to hold Ardie Savea up a minute short of the break.
But after defending 20 phases very effectively for a couple of minutes after the halftime siren, they still offered up the slightest sniff of opportunity that allowed Will Jordan to maintain his quite unbelievable strike rate of scoring Test Match tries.
While 38-7 did accurately tell the tale of the tape on fulltime, but I’m not sure 19-7 was a true indication of the first 40.
And they still can’t help making the little mistakes – often silly, often lazy little mistakes – that give referees little option but to deal out yet another yellow card.
Marika Koroibete’s in the 26th minute and Taniela Tupou’s in the 58th minute after he’d already succumbed to his rib injury were the Wallabies’ fourth and fifth yellows in three games this season, meaning their already really bad average is now even worse, at a card every 48 minutes in 2023.
On Saturday night, those two cards cost Australia 26 points. And I wouldn’t have been surprised if more came of Tupou’s lazy shoulder charge either, just to rub more salt into his already ordinary night.
The Wallabies had a lot more possession, but still couldn’t do a lot with it. Apart from Jordan Petaia being help up shortly after the break, the All Blacks defence wasn’t tested much in the second half at all.
In 250 tackles for the match, twelve players had double-digit tackle counts including Richie Arnold and Rob Leota coming off the bench. Six of them had more than 15 tackles each. It’s great that the defence workload is being shared, but this remains an unsustainable level of defending. 41 missed tackles is an unsustainable level of not defending, too.
The Wallabies are still giving away too much possession by whatever means; voluntary, error, or infringement.
But with all that said, Saturday night was the first time I walked away having seen something.
The Wallabies had an intent about their play, and even a method to get to where they want to play from.
Through that first half, when New Zealand did launch an attack, the Wallabies were able get back to the other end in response and launch attacks of their own. If the All Blacks struck, the Wallabies stuck back.
Once into groove, there were guys looking to carry and were in the right position to do that, importantly. Pods were in place early, and ball carriers were applying a bit of footwork before contact.
And then on contact, guys were looking to get an arm free and get an offload away. Support options were being offered as well, and some taken – Petaia to Andrew Kellaway early being an obvious example that sticks in the mind. Not all options were taken, and not all looks resulted in an offload, but the fact both were often there as an option is a welcome development.
Carter Gordon continues to show what the post-Quade future will look like, too. To the point that a genuine question might arrive this year as to whether apprentice is actually preferred to master.
And yes, he fluffed some kicks, but those midfield bombs were being launched from the right part of the field. Bombs from halfway have a lot better chance of being contested than those in the first two weeks being launched from well back in their own half.
Gordon played with width, passed well and created space for his teammates outside, and was quick to react to opportunities. It was a really promising first start, getting through 50 minutes and even looking a bit annoyed when he was replaced.
I love that; it shows that he’s already got a desire to keep wanting to do more.
Ultimately, the contest still got away from the Wallabies, but it wasn’t all one-way traffic for the whole 80 minutes for New Zealand. The All Blacks needed to find the patience they ultimately played with late in both halves.
It was a big margin in the end, but the best Wallabies performance of the year did indicate what they’re trying to do. That’s what we’ve needed to see. That’s what a team and a game plan can be built from.
That does get me interested.
Is it going to be enough to progress through the pool stage in France? I don’t know that and no-one can answer that currently without large amounts guesswork, assumption and/or time travel.
But I do know that that performance and that showing has them in a lot better window to progress than was the case in Pretoria and in Sydney.
Call it promising signs, call it green shoots, call it whatever you need to. But the point is, there now is something.
Finally, there is something from the Wallabies that adds a bit of meat to the bones of hope that Wallabies fans have been asked to hold tightly since mid-January.
It’s taken way longer than we wanted but finally – happily – there is something there.