Italy 18 v 25 Australia, Rome, 11 November 2006

Perhaps the most embarrassing part is that they will probably out-scrum us, but that should be it. Our scrum should really use this as valuable training since they can be confident that even if they fall apart the backs will carry this one. For the record I expect we won’t concede a try and we will put half-a-dozen past them. 50 points would not surprise me.

That above quote was actually more on the money than I would have liked in what was negative and further in what was positive, except that I didn’t give enough credit to the lineout, and didn’t (at all) mean 50 points between them! Italy, probably quite intelligently since they clearly didn’t have the first idea how, didn’t look like even wanting to score a try until the 75th minute. This was a disjointed, out-of-sorts and scrappy match, for which the Italians’ deserve considerable credit and the Australians brickbats.  

That said, some humility is called for. I am happy enough to encourage experimental selections and quick enough to condemn not making them. So if they go wrong I should not in good faith call for the coach’s head, nor will I. In any case it is now far too close to the World Cup. With any luck, those players who might have been out of their depth a bit today will benefit from the experience and go on to make a better contribution in future games for it. Unfortunately, that apparently includes at least two of our first-choice squad front-rows (Cannon and Baxter).  

 

I thought it was for the best that Cannon was sin-binned straight away. Whilst a more experienced ref might have felt that he could have coped with giving them a warning, for someone handling a team for the first time (both teams in fact I think) I think it was as well to do it. Not to mention I thought it a usefully sharp reminder to the Wallabies to keep their minds on winning the game even if clearly not sharp enough. I also thought Tuquiri’s sin-binning was entirely deserved every time the All Blacks kill the ball on an Australian penalty I call for just that treatment, so hopefully this indicates a new trend in refereeing (and it will be interesting to see how the refeering goes for New Zealand against France!).  

Backs  

Good  

They did score a few tries, and tackled well, and individually all ran strongly and effectively. Our splitting them apart from 60 yards in the 70th minute was how the entire 80 minutes should have been played. Unfortunately, it was not.

Rathbone made a real point of getting involved, and  did so pretty effectively.  

Bad  

They looked incoherent, and seemed unable to string together three effective passes until the 64th minute. Their defence was barely even tested by an Italian team incapable or unwilling or both to distribute the ball to their wings.  

They looked incoherent, and seemed unable to string together three effective passes until the 64 minute. Their defence was barely even tested by an Italian team incapable or unwilling or both to distribute the ball to their wings.  Giteau looked to be taking two or more steps each time and at least one backwards each time. I actually had the impression that he was taking one more than last game, but this might have been more that the Italians were a step faster than the Welsh in defence. It was certainly not good enough on the night!  

Mixed/Neutral  

I think that Larkham has had a really bum rap for ‘taking the player out’ some people (notably some Welsh people) thought he should have been sent off against Wales for turning his shoulder, but the player was running right at him! And again against Italy, sure, he took the Italian out, but you are not exactly obliged to get out the chasing runner’s way!  

I think that Larkham has had a really bum rap for ‘taking the player out’ some people (notably some Welsh people) thought he should have been sent off against Wales for turning his shoulder, but the player was running right at him! And again against Italy, sure, he took the Italian out, but you are not exactly obliged to get out the chasing runner’s way!  

Forwards  

Good

They were solid enough at winning back our ruck ball and generally in and around the tackle, their field support was about as much as one could ask and they were largely effective in the line-outs.  

Bad  

Whereas I thought Baxter was pretty decent against the Welsh, maybe it was just by contrast with Blake who was terrible in the scrums last week, because, whether it was due to Vickerman’s absence or who knows what, he did not even look like holding his ground this week! Interestingly, he did much better with the referee on his side of the scrum, suggesting to me that one of he or the Italian tighthead was doing something differently under the referee’s eye.  

Whereas I thought Baxter was pretty decent against the Welsh, maybe it was just by contrast with Blake who was terrible in the scrums last week, because, whether it was due to Vickerman’s absence or who knows what, he did not even look like holding his ground this week! Interestingly, he did much better with the referee on his side of the scrum, suggesting to me that one of he or the Italian tighthead was doing something differently under the referee’s eye.  The driven scrum on the 22 was a farce for Australia. I guess the moral of the story was that maybe I was too quick to criticise Blake! And, probably, that I have been right to insist that Jeremy Paul be our primary hooker. Then again, I have also wanted Sheperdson to get a run, and he certainly doesn’t look like being the solution to all our worries.  

We were absolutely routed in the scrums and mauls. In all, this was a dismal fail mark for our forwards.  

Conclusion  

If this was our second XV I would say we were well enough placed to win the World Cup. As it is it is close to our first and we must be tumbling down the odds list I would almost give more money on Argentina than us at the moment. Speaking of them, as I go to bed they have just survived a thrilling last ten minutes and some desperate English attacks to notch up a thoroughly-deserved win with exactly the same score – would that I had watched them instead!  

If this was our second XV I would say we were well enough placed to win the World Cup. As it is it is close to our first and we must be tumbling down the odds list I would almost give more money on Argentina than us at the moment. Speaking of them, as I go to bed they are well in the hunt against England and I certainly wish them every chance.  If we play like this against Ireland we’ll have our proverbials handed to us in no time. Since we beat a slightly depleted and tired Ireland side some months ago in Australia, that test will provide a good marker of how far we have come, or perhaps fallen. I earnestly hope not the latter.  

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cs
cs
15 years ago

Look, it was an absolutely terrible performance, Patrick. A complete shambles. Apart from the line-out, the forwards were hopeless as a pack (with only Elsom and the new no 8 doing OK as individuals). This in turn made Giteau look worse than Gregan ever did. Forget about the two-steps theory blah blah. Almost all the flack Gregan has taken has been unfair, as no half ever, and I mean ever, looks good behind a collapsing pack. Anti-Gregan commentators like Greg Crowden have been obsessed with attacking the symptom, not the cause. Giteau has shown he has the talent to be our number two half-back selection, and eventually number one, but he is far from on top of the job yet. In turn, all the backs looked hopeless, with the exception of Mortlock. They couldn’t pass, couldn’t catch, and the less said about their appalling kicking the better. The ill-disciplined behaviour of Cannon and Lote was embarrassing to watch. All up, this was a horrow show, as bad as anything under Eddie Jones last year.

What do do? The first thing I’d do is put Rogers on the bench, as a second half replacement. He is only a 50/50 bet at best whenever he gets near the ball, which is not good enough. Put Bernie back in his proper spot, and bring a real rugby player like Turinui into the centres. Phil Waugh must be in the pack, if only for his leadership. I don’t have enough expertise to know what is wrong with the scrum, but badly wrong it still is, after a whole season trying to repair it. My inclination would be to drop (retire, actually) Cannon for Paul and to lament that we don’t have Adam Frier on tour, and to also put Benn Robinson on.

The last chance to show some overseas form is coming up with the Ireland test, the toughest match of the tour. If the Wallabies don’t stand up this week, a World Cup semi-final berth might be as much as we can hope for in France.

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

Glad to see you still dropping in occasionally cs. Lucky I resisted the temptation to stay up and watch the game. It sounds like it would have been truly agonising.

Patrick
Patrick
15 years ago

I do basically agree cs. Actually I think Gregan could have added a lot of value, and I have never been an anti-GG. Cannon was stupid, as I think I said, but unlucky as well.

The problem with Robinson is probably the same as with Sheperdson – he needs time to struggle to get up to speed.

Next week is the real test – Ireland are shaping to thump us, although I don’t think they will on the last two games you would bet on it!