Australia 35 v 17 Ireland, 19 June 2006, Match Report

Belated Match Report, I know.   But, having finally caught up with the tape, I do have a few thoughts to share, not all about that match (video highlights here now).

Match Highlights:

Matt Rogers: Sure, he went off and would have been sick to do it, but he’s a sure thing to start in the Tri-Nations now.   Giteau’s only advantage was his experience at inside centre v Roger’s apparent inability to master the positional and passing play of the position.   Now, it is really match-fitness that counts, so, enter Rogers.   He did everything in those first 20 seeking out and bringing down O’Driscoll, passing, cleaning out, but most of all, he managed to move himself out wide to receive the ball, where he could run it a bit more himself.

The New Attack, Pt I: One reason for which Rogers was able to do that is Australia’s largely successful use of forwards as inside backs in attack, spreading their so-dangerous inside runners farther out.  Even off the scrums, with the old Kefu picks up and passes to Gregan trick resurrected in fine style.  In fact, they have inverted the whole backline, with wingers running crash balls in tight and inside backs hitting the sidelines!  

George Gregan: Cordingley still has a better pass, but let’s hand it to our Captain, he’s the real deal.

Al Baxter: Frankly, even knowing that he was playing with the handicap of Matt Dunning, I was ready to write him off even three months ago.   But he has really cemented his place in the squad and deserves congratulations.

The Scrum: In the same vein, our scrum has come leaps and bounds.   Congratulations to them all.

Well, I could go on, since frankly there were a few more!   But time for a change.

Match Lowlights:

Adam Freier: If ever there was a time he would have liked a second bite of the cherry it was then.   McIsaac, as hoped, nailed the line-outs, stood strong enough in the scrum and even got around (see ‘The New Attack’ above) a lot more than Freier.   I think he is a little victim of circumstances beyond his control, but the fatal nail was his dismal throwing, which I admit is beyond me to understand.   He now falls behind Tatafu-Polota in the list, and inevitably at NSW, since otherwise T-P will just pack his boots and go north.

The New Attack, Pt II: Part of this new strategy is clearly that Larkham and Gregan are supposed to play the ball, not ruck or maul but I saw both of them stand back and watch a ball turned over in front of them!!   There should be someone else there to do it, but when there isn’t, they’ve gotta do it.   Losing the ball is going to kill us, and we lost far too much ball with all to often just not enough support.   Even Ireland’s second try came because there was just not enough supporting tacklers getting back I hope never to see that again!   This strategy is going to win us games, and I note that they almost never lost the ball off-loading, which I had considered a concern last week.   But we did lose the ball a lot because the player who should have cleaned out was five yards perpendicular waiting to receive the off-load.   I remember, some years ago now, a 19-phase try against the All Blacks in NZ.   This team isn’t about to score one of them, not now and not soon.   That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but I do worry about our ability to hold on to the ball against NZ.

General Points:

Basically, this game went just like against England, but with better opposition.   They kicked, as they had to, but ineffectively (er, one notable exception notwithstanding!), they retained the ball better and ran better in tight and won the rucks and mauls but got driven backwards in the tackles (if a little less than England) and ultimately couldn’t turn possession into pressure, which is normally a given, whereas we constantly threatened their line and made yards in tackles.  

We seemed to be a little more fluid each match, which is promising, but the real test remains before us:

Looking ahead:

Basically, I think the same as before against NZ: we’ll match them in the set-pieces and struggle a little at the breakdowns, but, I’ve gained confidence that our backs ought to be able to hurt them, physically, mentally and ultimately where it counts.   I really count their whole backline as a weakness for them I stand to be embarrassingly corrected, of course, and it is not (quite, but almost) out of the question that their forwards so dominate ours at the breakdowns and in tight that our backs can’t get on the front foot.  

Rogers sudden patch of form is a real plus, since now we have depth across the backline (except, er, five-eighth!), and basically two full front-rows with Guy Shepherdson’s top performance.   Our slight worry, for me at least, is the back five.   Smith is irreplaceable, and Elsom is playing like a hero, and we don’t have any line-out jumpers on the bench, nor indeed any reserves in the squad.   I don’t think we can play six full tests against top-drawer opposition without another second row, basically.   But I’m sure that Connolly knows that too, so maybe Kanaar will be spending some more time at Coff’s Harbour.

Although I think NZ will beat us in the rucks and mauls, I don’t think by much, I tdo hink our back-row will beat theirs in playing like backs, and I am pretty confident that we can get in behind them.  Once we do that, I am sure that this team won’t let its chances go begging virtually every back is an accomplished finisher in this lineup, even more so than in theirs on current form.  Still, to repeat myself a little, I do think we are going to have to try and be a little more conservative so as to hang on to the ball a bit more.   I am confident that we will score tries, but that’s only half the point of winning.   I really think this Bledisloe is going to be an absolute cracker.        

But South Africa are giving us every reason to think that they will be just match-practice, which is a pity (if not quite the biggest pity in the world).   I’d be interested in everyone else’s Tri-Nations (and general – any francophiles out there?) thoughts.

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Aidan
Aidan
15 years ago

Who knows what the All Blacks will bring to the table as they have split the top team and have yet to play all the first stringers. When they do put them all on the paddock they’ll undoubtedly be rusty.

The weaknesses in the ABs at the moment are lineouts, outside centre, where the Wallabies have the peerless Stirling, and the form of some of the wingers. Joe R is a shadow of his former self. And AB supporters (like me) are just counting the days till Conrad Smith is healthy and back in the 13 jersey. He won’t be back this TN, but hopefully for the end of year and WC next year. It looks like they’ll play Nonu at outside centre, and he is a defensive liability. They are so desperate that Toeava, a promising rookie who plays fullback for the Hurricanes, was tried there against the Argies. Not a point of depth for the ABs.

Dan Carter was off with the boot in his last outing, but he really is total class. Oozes the stuff. Aaron Mauger has been playing well apparently, even putting his shoulder into a few tackles, so we might finally see him produce consistently for the ABs. That inside defence will be crucial against a Wallabies backline that is running some nice angles and asking tough questions of defences.

Another worry for the ABs has been the relatively poor form of Captain Courageous Richie McCaw. The captaincy has not improved his game, which is not good.

All in all .. can’t wait!

backin15
15 years ago

I pretty much agree with this and see the Tri-nations/Bledisloe as a close contest. Ireland were not as competitive as their games against the All Blacks suggested they would be. Rogers did play well, as you say, but because the forwards were stronger than has been the case in recent years.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
15 years ago

Patrick

I agree that the only apparent major remaining problem with the Wallabies pattern is too much turning over of possession at the breakdown. The scrums and lineouts are just about there with Freier’s dreadful throwing out of the picture. And the reason for the excessive number of soft turnovers at the breakdown does indeed seem to be that players are being coached to adopt the Crusaders/All Blacks strategy of committing the minimum number of players at the breakdown, with as many as possible remaining spread out across the field ready to attack (or form a defensive pattern if possession is turned over).

But the All Blacks and Crusaders have perfected this strategy through long practice. It requires the closest couple of players to get to the breakdown as quickly as possible, and commit themselves unequivocally to securing the ball. It doesn’t matter whether they are forwards or backs.

As you observed, Gregan and Larkham particularly should not have stood back from the maul and allowed possession to be turned over (as they did at least a couple of times glaringly), they should have gone in hard like breakaways. Australia won’t beat the All Blacks if they turn over as much possession as they did against both Ireland and England.

patemi
patemi
15 years ago

Clumsy as it is, I’ve just reposted a couple of missing posts. Hope the authors don’t mind my taking that liberty – I assume they were written to be read :)

I just want to add that I am really looking forwards to the scrums against some honest opponents -England cheated their way through, and Ireland resorted to that a bit too, whereas the All Blacks and SA, whilst not adverse to angling in, not binding, charging, screwing the tighthead’s head off and wedging the loosehead out, etc, certainly won’t be wheeling defensively, collapsing or trying to milk penalties. They’ll be trying to fold our front row over backwards, and I’m looking forward to seeing a real battle.

Secondly I agree with Aidan, as indeed I’ve been saying for a while here the three-quarters is a real problem for the Kiwis against Australia. Against the Boks they can afford not to worry so much but Australia has a wealth of hard hitters running tight angles right through Umaga’s ghost…I’m looking even more forwards to that! As for Mauger I’m very relaxed and comfortable about him taking on Rogers, and I really wonder how long his shoulder will last on Saturday (week). I think it’ll get a hammering if his backrow aren’t absolutely on the ball!

Thirdly I wouldn’t worry about either the All Black lineout or Richie McCaw – you mightn’t pinch anything in the lineot but it will be steady enough on your own ball, and Captain Courageous will be right enough on the day.