Dave Rennie’s sides have never shied away from contact in the past, but there’s reason to believe that the Wallabies aren’t quite carrying out the game plan that the Kiwi envisaged when he took over as coach of Australia.
There have been calls from all corners of the globe that Wallabies have lost their physical edge and supposedly lack the aggressive characters needed to foot it with the like of New Zealand and England.
Perhaps those comments were taken too much to heart last week. While Rennie’s men certainly imposed themselves physically over the weekend, it had little impact on a rampant All Blacks side – and former All Black James Parsons has asked whether the Australian team need to pick and choose their battles better.
“I understand Dave Rennie wants to bring hiss at the breakdown and stuff but I think what he’s wanting to see is the accuracy with that,” Parsons said on the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod. “Sometimes, maybe, the Aussie forwards are looking for the niggle too much, that’s distracting them.”
Parsons suggested that the Wallabies’ tactics may have been sacrificed at times at the expense of trying to intimidate their opposition.
“Early in that first half, I can’t remember the player, but they were pushing and shoving at the ruck but then no one was blocking and escorting for [Noah] Lolesio to exit. He’s got above five black jerseys pressurising and he kicks it out about 15 out.”
From the next lineout, All Blacks wing Caleb Clarke came desperately close to scoring his first test try in the right-hand corner – but for an excellent cover tackle from Marika Koroibete. Regardless, had debutant Lolesio had better protection at the kick, he could have carved off more metres up the field and the All Blacks may not have threatened.
It was on the other wing where New Zealand caused the most damage, however – especially when Filipo Daugunu was sin-binned early in the game for a reckless challenge on Clarke.
Earlier in the week, Daugunu had revealed that the Wallabies were going to put increased pressure on 21-year-old Clarke.
Australia’s plan backfired, however, when Daugunu’s over-exuberance saw him marched from the field for 10 minutes, during which time the All Blacks scored the first try of the match through Karl Tu’inukuafe after the Wallabies were exposed on their right wing.
Daugunu’s talk during the week and subsequent hit on Clarke reflected the Wallabies’ mindset, said Parsons.
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“Daugunu’s the prime example. He was like, ‘I’m going to hit him, I’m going to get him.’ That’s all emotion – and emotion got the better of him … That was Thursday, that press conference; the test match was Saturday. You think how much he’s fizzing, and he’s like ‘he’s my man’. And that was obviously clearly all he was thinking. And then he tackled him in the air.
“That’s the difference between inexperienced and experience, or maybe just calming things down in an environment … I think the emotions got the better [of the Wallabies] at times.”
Parsons, who played twice for the All Blacks between 2014 and 2016, also suggested that the Wallabies can bring some aggression to the game without compromising their game plan or pushing too hard.
“You’ve gotta get that balance between accuracy and bringing the heat, and just waiting for your moment,” Parsons said. “Don’t search for those niggle moments, it’ll appear itself. There’ll be a body lying there with a ribcage that you can clean out legally. Things like that, rather than trying to fight or push or shove unnecessarily.”
While the Wallabies were combative in Wellington, they were slightly off the pace in Auckland – which may well have forced a rethink of tactics for the test in Sydney. Having to adjust every week was likely taking its toll on the Australian side, said Parsons.
“When you’ve had a week where you go into your review and you know you brought the right intent but you weren’t accurate enough, so then you focus all on your accuracy and [you get told], ‘You were accurate but we want you to hurt’, so your first clean out at your next week’s game, you just fly in and try to kill someone and you give a penalty away. It’s happened to me, it’s happened to experienced, inexperienced guys.
“It’s just the mental game, isn’t it? International rugby, the teams that are an edge above, it’s all done mentally in the preparation during the week to keep calm so that when your moment presents you take it, but you don’t go searching for things. When you’re searching for things in a game of rugby … it almost goes from bad to worse.”
The Wallabies will look to score their first win of the year on Saturday when they take on the All Blacks in Brisbane.
Listen to the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below or find it on your preferred streaming service.
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