Australia 43 v England 18, June 17 2006, Match Review

What a weird match!   Yet wonderful because Australia were stronger, more creative and more organised and accordingly won, weird because the scrums were an odd battle until, without anyone at the ground understanding, they were no battle at all as England’s props succumbed to injury, because England dominated possession but seemed completely bereft of ideas as what to do with it, and were actually much better than last week but even more heavily defeated.   **video highlights online now.**

Forwards

Firstly the scrum, since that is what we all care about.   Whilst Freier has apparently a toe injury, it matters not, since he just about played himself into the coveted bench spot during his time on the field Australia A’s bench spot that is, behind Tatafu-Polota-Nau who had a great scrumming game for the U21s against NZ last night.   Allowing for the conditions, Freier didn’t add much to the scrum compared to McIsaac let alone Paul, threw poorly and didn’t manage to get into the game around the field.   So although he still has time, McIsaac’s vast superiority in the throwing department (a waterpolo player, after all) seems to make him Paul’s deputy for the Bledisloes, and that experience will give him a head-start for the RWC no 19 guernsey.  Other than that, Blake and Holmes will surely start again in Perth next week, with Holmes really having taken advantage of the uncontested scrums to get a carry or two.   Unless Blake’s injury is more serious than thought, of course, in which case one presumes that Benn RobinsonGuy Shepherdson gets called up (to the bench) and (Baxter) starts with Holmes, since Baxter seems to be forever loosehead now.   Also, despite everything I just said, Freier surely deserves a second shot, because for all that it was a mess our scrum was actually stronger than theirs, while it lasted.   (updated after reading this morning’s news!)

Our lineout, on the other hand, was terrible it did get better when Paul came back on, but was still oddly off-key.   A worry, and something to work very hard on.   I suspect we’ll see McIsaac coming on for the last 20 minutes of every game just for that!   But around the field the forwards were generally very good I’d love to see a game between Smith and McCaw with both blindfolded.  Chisholm played well and deserved his try, whilst Palu didn’t distinguish himself enough to get into the starting eight and will probably be dropped next week to give Fava his chance to shine.    

Backs

The big news in the backs was  Varndell: last night, Tuquiri owned him.   Every time Varndell touched the ball, Lote  was there to bundle him up and slam him, hard, into touch!   Literally even when Varndell went into a tackle Tuquiri was there to clean out.   He obviously took last week’s embarrassment to heart, and set out to make certain that the psychological damage was going to fall on Varndell’s side not his.

But this quote from Andy Robinson mirrors my own sentiments exactly: ‘Varndell did well but we didn’t do very well in terms of how we got him into the game.’   It was in fact representative of the lack of rugby intelligence in the England team (and, er, coach) as a whole, but most acutely in the backline.   Mike Catt might have been ran over by every winger and outside centre in the world over the last 11 years, but he hasn’t gained much leadership from the experience.   It quickly became obvious both that Varndell was keen to run and that he didn’t have a hope in hell of getting past Tuquiri.   In any case such a good runner should be getting the ball blindside, through the centres and on the kick-n-chase.   The one time he got the ball away from Tuquiri, drifted onto Balshaw, he fended(!) Shepherd(?), beat Waugh and made 10-15 metres.   Unfortunately, the one time someone did take the patently obvious option of chipping ahead down the wing for Varndell to chase, it was Ian Balshaw, who had a poor night with the boot generally, who miscued and hoofed it dead, and in any case only did it in desperation, when given a) England’s pace and b) Australia’s ruthless defence, kicking over the top should have been the obvious option.   Look at Australia, who made their first two tries out of it.

Personally, I think Varndell might go on to make us eat our words in a few year’s time.   For now, he is simply too weak, and suffers from being in a crap team.   But if he has the right stuff between his ears, and he looks like he does, he’ll take a lot of determination away from these two tests, and come back 10 kgs heavier, two-tenths-of-a-second slower and a fantastic winger.  

That brings us to the highlight of the match for Australia their defence, and their penetration.   England had 63% of the possession, 62% of the territory and forced 103 tackles compared to our 51 – but if Karl Rove was coaching, one would say that it was all part of the gameplan, since Australia could scarcely go forward as quickly as they could force England back!  Probably the weakest link (but still good) was Matt Rogers, who will be ashamed to show his face at training after the team watches him buy Leicester hooker George Schuter’s dummy on video.   In any case, he is surely going to be replaced by Matt Giteau (is still out for a while) next week (probably off the bench), and Sam Norton-Night and Berrick Barnes will be running damned hard for Australia A to chase that inside back bench spot, whilst Turinui will be breaking Sydney club players in two and passing the width of the pitch in pursuit of the same.

But the rest of the backs were great Tuquiri is a very strong runner, strong in the air and gets himself involved all over the park, Latham was rock-solid in defence and ran powerfully and elusively, and Gerrard is the complete article, kicks, catches, runs like a train and is as strong as an ox.   Latham’s heir apparent, clearly, and I suspect he’ll get a bit more time at fullback next year for the Brumbies.   Gregan seems to benefit from the occasional relegation, and I suspect he’ll have to get used to starting off the bench every so often now.  But next week he will start, with Cordingley on the bench.  

The key to this Australian team remains, of course Larkham, whose brilliant hands were involved in most of the tries, and who is irreplaceable for us.  

PS

Finally, congratulations to the U21s who downed NZ to progress to the semi-finals of the IRB U21 Rugby World Championships.  Amongst them are Wallaby hopefuls Polota-Nau, Lloyd Johansson, Digby Ioane, Leroy Houston, and doubtless others yet to stake a claim.  Last year’s team with all those players plus Cameron Shepherd, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Benn Robinson lost in the final to South Africa, who we are very likely to meet again. (If they beat NZ and we beat France – should do on both counts)

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Ken Parish
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Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
15 years ago

I agree Freier is a shot duck. But I don’t think Wycliff Palu was given enough game time to make a reasonable judgment. I was quite impressed with what little we saw of him and I reckon he deserves another chance. I guess they have to give Scott Fava a chance as well, although I’ve never had a terribly high opinion of him myself.

I also agree that Rogers again failed to show much at inside centre (and bought a huge and obvious dummy from the England hooker to let in a try). Giteau will obviously remain the first choice inside centre, but I expect Rogers to remain an important bench player given his versatility.

I actually thought the lineout looked OK once Jeremy Paul took over the throwing, and the scrum was much better until they ceased being contested after half time. But England managed to retain possession far better than Australia through much of the game, especially the first half, and it wasn’t entirely because of Freier’s poor lineout throws. Australia’s rucks and mauls look to me like they still need work, so we can more reliably retain possession through multiple phases. We can’t keep relying so heavily on great defence and a superb counter-attacking backline. We’ll get massacred by a team with a decent backline unless the forwards can vastly improve their possession retention in loose play.

Patrick
Patrick
15 years ago

Palu coughed it up at least once, and while you are right that he didn’t get a great look-in, he was on for a fair while and I still suspect his next shot might be Australia A, particularly if they want to look at Fava.
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I would have agreed re Rogers, but I think they have to give Norton-Knight a look now, and Barnes will have time to push his claim for selection.

Agreed re Paul, but we were still not as solid as once we were and lineouts are really really crucial, see next paragraph, and agreed re the scrum, but they had some trouble settling in.

One problem with multiple phases is that we kept kicking, either for touch or to get in behind and score. It worked twice, as well. But the kicking for touch will be a lot more effective if we can put real pressure on the lineout – as it is our best bet is kick long, and rely on their man being scared witless by our huge backs and so kicking badly.

But in both games the Australian forwards have strung together a couple series of really nice offloads in the tackle, and I think that’s where Connolly wants things to go. Less rucking and mauling, more offloading and keeping it alive. After all, although no-one seems to have noted it, England looked a lot like us last year against NZ, or NSW against the Crusaders – we built phase after phase but really struggled to make a dint because modern teams barely bother contesting most rucks and mauls, leaving numbers to defend. So you have to break the defence up somehow, and offloading to good support (which we seem to be doing well) is a good way (see the lead-up to Blake’s try last week for a really textbook example)

Unfortunately, offloading in the tackle carries the increased risk of coughing it up…

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
15 years ago

What changes will Guus make for tonight’s match with Brazil?

derrida derider
derrida derider
15 years ago

I thought the pommy halves and backs were awful, in both attack and defence (mind you, their forwards are no longer getting them the abundance of quality ball of a couple of years ago. Maybe they were always mediocre and just flattered by their forwards). All this wasn’t as obvious in the wet last week but a dry pitch really showed them up.

As for the Wallabies, there’s still work to be done on the set pieces but all in all an impressive performance, more so than last week. NZ will be the test because our backs won’t be able to rescue us there if the forwards aren’t up to the mark.

Patrick
Patrick
15 years ago

Re England, I tend to agree – remember last year we nearly beat them without a forward pack, or none to speak of. And that was their best team, minus only perpetually injured Wilkinson.

Re NZ, I don’t – their outer backs have struggled, and since we’ll hit them at least as hard as the Irish did I expect they will struggle against us as well. All the more since I think the problem is Tana Umaga’s retirement, and although the Irish had the incomparable O’Driscoll to make NZ feel his absence, we have not only the pretty handy Mortlock but a very powerful back three to take crash balls through the three-quarters, and Larkham’s magic hands to feed them. Ireland didn’t have as impressive a running game as we do nor as good a passing five-eighth.

I do agree, of course, that NZ is the test. But my tip is that if forwards can hold an even keel it will be our backs who win it for us.