A 37-18 loss to England put the final nail into coffin of the Wallabies 2018 season, sealing it as one of their worst ever with just four wins from 13 test matches. The records keep tumbling, but they are all of the unwanted variety.
There is no avoiding the fact that the Wallabies are just bad – tactically and technically. There are improvement areas everywhere and there is no quick fix solution. Whether they are achieving incremental improvements is still debatable, the Wallabies showed again at Twickenham that they are not learning from past mistakes.
Their opening possession against England was eerily similar to the one in Port Elizabeth, where Kurtley Beale threw an interception on his own goal line inside the first minute to gift the Springboks a try.
At Twickenham, Dane Haylett-Petty is charged down and the Wallabies concede a 5-metre scrum. Jonny May scores in the corner thirty seconds later down the blind side, conceding another try within the first couple of minutes.
In both cases, the Wallabies play to the middle of the field before looking to clear their lines, in the process achieving a poorer angle, reducing what distance can be achieved kicking to touch. The designated kickers fail to line up with protection, the forwards crowd around rucks and there is a lack of cohesion that results in a failure to exit efficiently.
Revisiting the start at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium
Michael Hooper (7) fields the kickoff and veers off in field, away from his support and is tackled around 27m infield. A pod-group of Adam Coleman (5) cleans and Scott Sio (1) and Taniela Tupou (3) join late.
They play another carry to the left with the second pod forming above, across the front of the posts and make a gain-line loss.
The forwards from the previous ruck, Sio (1), Tupou (3) and Coleman (5), head to the next ruck and seem lost as to what the play is.
Instead of setting a ‘wall’ on one side to block for a clearing kick they spread disjointedly on both sides. It seems as though half were expecting another carry around the corner but they have run out of room to do so.
The Wallabies have two kicking options either side of the ruck, but Matt Toomua is a bit late into position on the left side.
On the right side, instead of aligning in the pocket behind the ruck and kicking for the left-hand touch, Beale is wider, exposed to potential chargers with only Coleman in place to disrupt oncoming rushers.
Faced with pressure from Faf de Klerk, he bails from the kick and attempts a wild cutout pass and is picked off on the goal line by Aphiwe Dyantyi. The decision to throw a high-risk pass by Beale is only the cherry on top of bad all round rugby.
The Wallabies start the Twickenham test with the same exit play.
This time Hooper’s original carry is much more direct, setting up the ruck 15-metres infield, just inside the 22.
The same Wallabies forwards, the two props and lock Adam Coleman secure the first ruck. They will try to fold around the corner after the first carry.
Jack Dempsey (6) takes the first carry but is dominated in a two-man tackle and forced backward.
Izack Rodda (4) whiffs as the latcher, trying to remove Sam Underhill from the tackle, resulting in a gain line loss and a negative play for the Wallabies, pushing them back deeper.
The forwards from the last ruck bend around for another carry. The two kicking options, Matt Toomua (10) and Dane Haylett-Petty (14), start to position in the backfield, but not as receiving options for a pass from the pod.
Sio takes the next carry and sets a platform just inside the goal posts. This time, the previous pod re-loads and set protection on the right side of the ruck, ideal for a Toomua clearing kick.
Toomua’s hands are slightly raised, while Haylett-Petty is indicating he is not anticipating having to make a clearance with hands down.
Genia plays to Haylett-Petty, who has no protection, with four potential English kick chargers. Ben Youngs gets a hand to the kick and puts the Wallabies in a precarious situation, forcing them to ground the ball in the in-goal.
Again it costs the Wallabies seven points in the first 120 seconds, in what could have been completely avoidable.
This multi-phase exit strategy is inherently flawed in providing the Wallabies a decent platform to clear from. Each phase played infield sacrifices distance downfield, with the extra width of the field chewing up potential metres of a kick with the same power from the original position.
Inside the safety of the 22, each carry only needs to be used to re-position the side horizontally for a better angle. If you are already 15-metres in and on the edge of the 22-metres line, what point is there playing further one-out phases? Possibly one more might be desired, but not two or three past, or in front of, the posts.
In both these cases, the Wallabies are going both backwards and further infield, worsening the position in two ways.
Secondly, the Wallabies are in no pattern to utilise the passing option to exit. The rest of the backs are set deep to be onside for the kick, and the forwards do not have any immediate backdoor options, making the carrier easy targets for the rush defence.
Since this is the first play of the game, most sides will be fresh enough to generate good line speed, which both the Springboks and England did to hammer the ball carrier for net losses. Lukhan Tui also coughed up possession in the same situation by a targeted tackle by Sam Cane in the first Bledisloe test.
There is a difference between playing out of your 22 through organised passing in one phase and running carries aimlessly to waste time before an inevitable kick, which gets less likely to be effective with each further carry.
This is the perfect example of inefficiency and questionable game strategy in the Wallabies game, which has proven to be costly not once but twice in the same season. If they are going to improve as a group, these are the things they need to review, starting from something as basic as exit plays and questioning everything they do and who should be doing it.
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