I mentioned elsewhere that Australia struggle against big forward packs. Against Italy, this wasn’t such a dire thing as the Quade Cooper/Will Genia pairing were able to work themselves back into the game. The bad news was that they couldn’t do the same thing against Ireland after being held to 6-6 at the break. The good news is that they can still rally and win the tournament.
Granted, it will be very difficult (they now look like they’ll have to beat South Africa, New Zealand, then England and they’re not the most consistent team in world rugby if we’re being honest), but they may well have received their big shock for the tournament and should learn from it.
Never Underestimate Your Opponent
Graham Henry could have told you this after the 2007 quarterfinal. But the thing is, so could Robbie Deans after losing 32-23 to Samoa earlier in the year.
In that particular game, Australia turned down four shots at goal (12 points’ worth for those following at home) and went on to lose by 9. Hmmm…..
Ireland went into the game on terrible form. They’d lost four games before the tournament and looked far from convincing against a USA Eagles team they should have put away before half time. Most pundits (myself included) gave them next to no chance at causing an upset. Interestingly enough, first-stringers Stephen Moore and David Pocock picked up some curiously-timed injuries before the game.
But the men in green did their nation proud, and showed why World Cups are so damned difficult to predict. Like Italy, they played an extremely tight game in the first half to keep the scores locked at 6. Unlike Italy, they managed to keep the tempo slow and outscore the Wallabies in the second half 9-0 (for a 15-6 score if you’re somehow lost already).
Australia didn’t play to their best that night, but take nothing away from the remarkable turnaround that Ireland produced. If the selectors from other countries wanted reasons against resting some of their best players, or at least forcing them to play through minor injuries, they found them.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again here. To beat Australia, you slow the ball down and give their X-factor players less time to work with.
Will Genia CAN be contained
All Blacks’ forwards coach Steve Hansen will spend a lot of his time watching replays of that game. The diminutive Guinean whose darting runs led to match-winning tries in the Super Rugby final and the Brisbane Tri Nations test was remarkably quiet in Eden Park.
The Wallaby pack was well beaten, and the Irish flankers did well to harry Genia’s various lines of attack. That kind of pressure was key to keeping the Wallabies’ game to a low tempo where they struggle to compete.
The Wallabies have too many X-Factor players
Don’t get me wrong here, “X-Factor” players are wonderful to have in your team. There is a definite use to having players like Israel Dagg, Ma’a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, or Zac Guildford to a lesser extent. But where the Wallabies struggle and the All Blacks excel is balancing them out with reliable players who just do what they have to.
If you name Dagg, I’ll name Mils Muliana. If you name Nonu, I’ll give you Conrad Smith. Guildford has Cory Jane while Adam Thomson is countered by Jerome Kaino and Kieran Read. But take a look at Australia’s side, and name their five best players.
Chances are you’ll end up with names like Kurtley Beale, Quade Cooper, Will Genia, David Pocock and Digby Ioane. Three of those players (arguably four) are brilliant on their day, but are just the kind of player you DON’T want to see if they’re having a bad day. Then you throw in names like Adam Ashley-Cooper, James O’Connor (and that’s before he lines up a shot at goal), Radike Samo, Ben Alexander or Tatafu Polata-Nau and you can see why they need to use players like Anthony Faingaa more often.
No weakness! No pain! No mercy!
Say what you want about how strong the Irish were or how badly the Wallaby pack played. But personally, I think their pack is still capable of a lot more than what they produced in Auckland. In Brisbane a few weeks ago, the pack turned up with a strong desire to win, that translated to outgunning the All Black forwards for the first time in however long, they got better field position and were consequently able to build a 24-3 first half lead.
David Pocock is no slouch and will be welcomed back into the squad, but that’s the form they need to replicate for 240 straight minutes if they want James Horwill to lift the Webb Ellis trophy.
That kind of effort and attitude is not unique to success in rugby either. Hearing the Australian swimmers talk, winning means everything to them. If they feel they’re slipping, they say nothing and put an extra hour a week in at the pool. As a result, those guys are fishes.
Short of South Africa “choking” against Samoa (and Peter de Villiers is the only coach in world rugby who would try that to get an easier run to the final, so there’s a start) or more suspiciously Namibia, Australia now have an incredibly tough run to the Grand Final made tougher still.
But it’s not one that’s insurmountable. They just need to subscribe to my blog.