It seems like a parallel universe now and ancient history but there used to be a time when a Wallabies versus All Blacks Test was a 50/50 affair.
A toss of the coin would decide it, perhaps a kick for goal on the full time whistle. How long ago this was when a Wallaby coach had the same luxuries as any All Black coach has at the helm. Now Coach Cheika has hookers turning up who can’t throw a ball into the lineout, props who lack the basics, a good strength base and are easily bent out of shape, all forwards have no idea how to defend a driving maul or put a driving maul together, both backs and forwards are stripped of the ball in one on one confrontations, no idea how to assist the ball carrier in a tackle just stand back and watch them get belted, no idea that going forward in ruck defence is a legitimate option, no idea that there are other options besides going wide every time.
In short, in a Bledisloe Cup Test week Coach Cheika is teaching his hookers to throw a ball, praying his scrum will hang on plus all of the above to cover. This used to be club level basics, refined at each level as you moved up the representative ladder. Steve Hansen has skilled, fit All Black players turning up; he needs to fine tune the All Blacks not coach the basics. Looking at the skill level deficit between the Wallabies and All Blacks players, coaching the Wallabies is made out to be a pretty tough gig.
The days of the press beating up a long shot win for the Wallabies are well and truly over. You would have been hard-pressed to find anyone who actually admitted to watching the game by Sunday in Sydney. The Wallabies were up 6-5 at halftime and were absolutely belted in the second half to lose 38-13.
You would not get me out to the ANZ Stadium at the best of times to watch a rugby match. It is the worst field I have ever seen for rugby. You can’t see most of the play and remain permanently glued to the big screen to catch any of the action. So the Gold army shuffled home again into the bleak night after forking out over $100 each for the cheapest seats, who would be back for more punishment?
After such positive signs in the Irish Test Series and at over the Super Rugby season, the Wallabies scrum was again in big trouble against a very good All Black pack. The All Black front row simply outmuscled the Wallaby front row and scrummed them into the ground. Owen Franks was outhitting Tom Robertson, right shoulder down taking the inside angle. Robertson missed his left bind many times as Franks jammed down the right shoulder, denying him the space. Joe Moody was also outhitting Sekope Kepu. I saw Kepu a number of times take a half step back and try and jam his right shoulder down as Moody hit him back and got the classic long straight bind on Kepu’s shorts.
I thought the whole Wallaby scrum was poor in both their set up and engagement. You always look at what is happening behind when the front row is getting belted. I saw an All Black pack with minimal movement before the crouch, the locks down on two feet self-supporting; at the hit all movement was forward and feet movement was into the Wallabies. The All Black back five generated enormous power and forward momentum as they launched the front row into the scrum.
I had a good look at the Wallaby pack in their set up and engagement and it was a real contrast to the All Blacks. Both Wallaby locks were down on their inside knees before the crouch, then moving up on their two feet as the crouch is called, outside legs up. On the engagement the outside foot moved backwards to get two feet square. Both props were also making a foot readjustment backwards to try and compensate for getting smashed on the hit. The All Blacks were settled with minimal movement and all eight stepped in and smashed forward on the hit. This translated to a very hard day in the office for the Wallaby scrum.
The axe has fallen this week as Michael Cheika attempts to shore up the scrum. Tom Robertson is replaced at loosehead by Scott Sio and Sekope Kepu is replaced at tight head prop by Allan Alaalatoa. Unless the Wallabies also fix up what is happening in the rest of the scrum it might just be like swapping deck chairs on the Titanic.
The lineout was also terrible especially when Tatafu Polota-Nau was replaced by Tolu Latu. Latu lost five lineout throws by just handing the ball to the All Blacks, he has paid the price and been dropped completely out of the squad. Rookie Folau Faingaa comes in to replace Latu on the bench. Latu’s throws were not good in the Irish Test Series, he can’t hit the mark and it amazes me in the professional era how this can’t be corrected when you have all day to train.
Added to the pressure on the Wallaby lineout through simply bad throws was a very good All Black defensive lineout who are good at getting a jumper up high and just in front of where the ball is going. Again something that used to be corrected on the run. Latu could not hit the four or five jumper with a basketball; Michael Hooper should have kept pulling numbers out until he found a mark that Latu could hit. This will usually be around two or three where the defence find it hard to get a jumper in front, especially if it is fast, a walk-in and throw.
I don’t think anyone has high hopes for the Wallabies for this Second Test as they are coming off a belting and have history against them – their last win at Eden Park was in 1986. But we live in hope for Eden Park this week, parity in the scrum and lineout would be a start. The Wallabies are one of the few teams in the world that can beat the All Blacks. They have many times in the past shrugged off defeat and played like men possessed to give magical wins. Then again that may be the Irish poet in me and I will be stuck typing a match review much like this one next week.
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