Michael Cheika’s Wallabies are continuing in the same direction as they were last year, after an opening 35-17 blowout loss at Ellis Park to what was described as a Springboks ‘B’ side but was laden with quality test match players.
Right from the opening minute, the Springboks looked sharp, rushing up and pounding hapless Wallabies well beyond the gain line for seven phases before they turned it over. The intensity was too much for a side lacking fundamentals in so many areas.
The passage of play leading up to the Springboks’ first try perfectly illustrates Australia’s ineffectiveness with ball-in-hand, which often leads to shipping points against the run of play through errors or turnovers.
Bernard Foley is absolutely buried by Andre Esterhuizen for a gain line loss on a wrap-around play on first phase, killing a set-piece move from the lineout. As Kuridrani and Hooper try to secure the ruck from the side, the ball spills out forcing Nic White to scramble and run himself.
On the third phase, an inside ball from Sekope Kepu finds Folau Fainga’a who is driven sideways. The outside latcher, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto advances past Fainga’a to clean out the second tackler only to be knocked over by his own man Fainga’a, leaving the Wallabies without adequate protection. Kepu lazily tries to clean from the side but Francois Louw has already won possession, from which the Springboks spread wide and score 60-metres later.
This is part and parcel for this Wallabies side who have issues protecting and recycling the ball, with many of their pack too slow, taking bad angles and generally inaccurate at the breakdown. The scripted nature of their attack falls apart effortlessly with sloppy execution, at times from wayward passing and handling but just as much through poor breakdown work.
It’s hard to say with any conviction that these forwards are the best players in their positions in Australia. If indeed they are, many are not up to the level required of Tier 1 international rugby to be successful. Under a new coach, the selections of Sekope Kepu, Folau Fainga’a, Izack Rodda, Rory Arnold and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto would be in serious jeopardy just based on their ability to do their job and get around the park efficiently at this level. Michael Hooper would miss out on starting due to not being the best in his position, his questionable role as an edge runner and obvious lineout deficiencies.
This pack as currently constructed does not have the ability to dominate any facet of the game and will be eaten alive by their counterparts from England, Wales and Ireland at the World Cup while the All Blacks will feast on this piecemeal pack for another Bledisloe.
Nic White was the Wallabies’ best but even his impact was stifled by the sum of all parts. At times it felt as if the side could not play at the tempo he wanted to bring, and the quicker he played the worse things got. His kicking game provided the Wallabies some stability but they were outfoxed by both Springbok halves Herschel Jantjies and Elton Jantjies in that department.
Cheika is a passionate coach who is stubbornly loyal, often to the detriment of the Wallabies. His post-match sentiment again focused on refereeing decisions and not those of his players.
Dane Haylett-Petty putting a shoulder in at the ruck when he should be flanked on the blindside wing cost seven points. The possession leading to Jantjies’ second try was gifted to the Springboks by Bernard Foley pushing a pass just outside his own 22 that was intercepted. Izack Rodda’s poor defensive positioning allowed Pieter-Steph Du Toit to coast right by him and cost seven points a few phases later when Lood de Jager crashed over. Taniela Tupou cleaning out a player after the whistle lead to the third try. Foley throwing a pass to player in front of him and another player picking it up in an offside position lead to the fourth.
Cheika spoke of being ‘happy with a lot of things’, ‘good defence’ and ‘picking apart the Springboks’ in what was nearly a 20-point loss. There seems to be no accountability for performance or the ability to identify poor performance in this current setup, just rhetoric about hope for tomorrow.
“There are a lot of great people in our team and a lot of great things happening behind the scenes that right now aren’t turning themselves into wins, but we will turn them into wins next year,” Michael Cheika said after the 2018 loss to England at Twickenham.
Well, tomorrow is here. It’s 2019 and it looks just as bleak for the Wallabies.
Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus after the win over the Wallabies:
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