Michael Cheika’s Wallabies left Bledisloe Game 1 in Sydney with a disappointing 38-13 defeat, giving them the unenviable task of heading to Eden Park to square the series.
History is now against Cheika’s side, with a seemingly insurmountable challenge ahead. They have just a week-long preparation to somehow turnaround a malfunctioning set-piece and come up with a plan to do what no other side has done in the last 20 years.
The capitulation at both lineout and scrum means Cheika needs to re-think his pack, with a few selection casualties required following a poor performance.
Lukhan Tui failed to deliver as Cheika’s enforcer, coming up with a key drop and a poor missed tackle that led to an All Blacks try. His tall frame can end up too upright on occasion, meaning he can’t seem to carry as effectively in close channels.
It would be easy to discard Tui, but he can still provide value and athleticism to the pack. His athleticism showed flashes on the edges, where a skillful offload put debutant Maddocks away for a line break in the second half. In a radical move, he could be used as a lock to make way for Pete Samu to join the starting side. That means either Izack Rodda or Adam Coleman would have to be dropped, and based on form it would have to be Coleman.
Rodda provides more quickness in the lineout, his movement off the mark is more explosive than the experienced Coleman. Whilst a rock solid defender, Coleman looked lethargic as a jumper in game one and was rendered useless by Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick at lineout time. The Wallabies need speed to the jump at the lineout, where they were outclassed in Game 1.
Confusingly, the lineout calls became more basic as the game went on, with almost no deception or attempt to manipulate space with player movement and four-man and five-man operations. It became easier and easier for Whitelock and Retallick to prey on Wallabies ball.
Pete Samu will give them more mobility within the lineout and forward pack, giving the Wallabies a chance to rectify a poor performance in Sydney.
Sekope Kepu produced a valiant second-half display after a poor showing in the first. He played on despite a brutal eye injury and got through an improved work rate in the second stanza but unfortunately, the Wallabies need more athleticism around the park. Kepu wasn’t as reliable at scrum time either. With the Wallabies pack needing a jumpstart, if fit, Taniela Tupou needs to start in the front row replacing Kepu, along with Scott Sio.
Tupou’s scrummaging was one of the competition’s best this year in Super Rugby, and he brings a power running game like no other player in World Rugby. He has come a long way since a Super Rugby pre-season scrummaging lesson at the hands of Franks as an 18-year-old. It’s time for Thor to be elevated to the starting lineup. There will be no better time to do it – Tupou will be keen to impress on return to the city he was schooled in, having attended Sacred Heart in Auckland.
Tatafu Polota-Nau should be given another opportunity to start at hooker, but replacement Tolu Latu should be dropped in favour of Folau Faainga solely based on form.
Latu made poor decisions to pass when two promising opportunities were presented, both times failing to execute. He missed throws at the lineout and missed four tackles in a forgettable night.
The backs did well for large periods of the match but a scrum move that came undone in the 51st minute was the catalyst for a Wallabies collapse. Dane Haylett-Petty dropped the ball cold, an inexcusable error which led to Beauden Barrett’s try.
With Israel Folau now ruled out with an ankle injury, Cheika has to weigh up who will replace him. Haylett-Petty defended well on the wing whilst he was on the park and should be kept there. It will be tempting to move him to fullback but the edge defence is so important against the All Blacks. Jack Maddocks was burned by Waisake Naholo after a moment’s hesitation in the dying stages, illustrating this first hand.
Starting the 21-year-old Maddocks on the wing is not a good idea at Eden Park, but the Wallabies should consider playing him in his natural position at fullback where he is comfortable under the high ball. He won’t have frontline defensive duties but will be heavily involved in the game in attack. If he is more important as a bench utility, the in-form Tom Banks presents the next best option.
Stand-in centre Reece Hodge proved he could give be relied on in the Wallabies midfield as he was one of the better performers on the night. His defence, particularly at set-piece time, kept the midfield closed for the All Blacks. He deserves another start at 13.
Winger Marika Koroibete was unlucky to be stripped one-on-one by Naholo as his knee hit the ground, but still finished the night with a 50% tackle success rate, with five misses. He provides speed in attack and was useful in a couple of situations in Game 1, but defensive concerns are very real. Without another option though, he looks to start again.
The Wallabies defence was heavily criticised by the Australian media, but this wasn’t as bad as it seems. The All Blacks scored 21 points within one phase of turnover ball, which is historically difficult for any side to defend. The Wallabies lone try came from the same situation, in the first phase following an intercept by Michael Hooper.
It will be more important for the Wallabies to reduce unforced errors and limit transition phases, which the All Blacks utilise far more effectively. Even Brodie Retallick’s great try came four phases after the big man stripped Will Genia one-on-one. That first phase yielded a Barrett line break which got the All Blacks on the front foot.
Aside from set-piece, the most worrying aspect was the performance of the bench as a unit. As detailed above, Latu’s performance was only one of many forgettable cameos.
Nick Phipps’ performance was nothing short of pathetic. His six minutes on the field resulted in two poor defensive efforts against Naholo (conceding two line breaks and a try), one shocking pass from a scrum move that went forward and was turned over, and one errant offload that again was snapped up by an All Black.
Genia has to play eighty minutes or the Wallabies need to call up Jake Gordon as Phipps does not meet the standard required of an international halfback currently. The third option Joe Powell doesn’t offer much more confidence and it remains a mystery as to why Gordon isn’t in this squad.
The only replacement who had a net positive impact was the rookie Maddocks, who took a nice high ball and finished with a try on debut despite one lapse in defence.
A reinforced starting lineup will allow some of the starters like Tom Robertson to resume duties on the bench, which should yield a better performance in the closing stages.
Even so, making the required adjustments is no guarantee of getting the result and should they lose again they will rue the performance of the Sydney test. The Wallabies continue to flounder under Cheika’s watch, with a deteriorating record against Tier 1 nations.
The Wallabies and Cheika need an Eden Park miracle to turn the ship around.
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