With the World Cup just one year away, Australia’s series with Ireland was a vital series for Michael Cheika to take stock and have a look at the players that he may have at his disposal come next year.
Ireland have had a superb year and are currently ranked number two in the world. The combined score over the three tests was a 55-55 draw showing how close it was and giving Cheika a lot of positives to take out of the series. In saying that, there are also a couple of areas that need to be improved and looked at for the Wallabies to be serious contenders at the big dance.
Here are a few things that Cheika would have learnt:
1 – This one is more of a reminder, but what a player David Pocock is. Having taken a sabbatical away from rugby he slipped back in seamlessly and was the man of the series. His work at the breakdown was immense, consistently disrupting the Irish ball and making a nuisance of himself. He is an indispensable player that simply has to be in the team for Australia to be really competitive.
2 – Taniela Tupou is the future. Sekope Kepu’s days may well be numbered. Every time Tupou came on he made an impact in both the scrum and the loose. A dynamic and powerful ball runner, he is always looking for work and takes some stopping. His raw strength and power make him a weapon at scrum time and one that Ireland struggled to deal with even with their star-studded front row of Furlong, McGrath and Healy.
The one thing that may be in Kepu’s favour, other than his experience, is the fact that Tupou is so dynamic off the bench offering something and Kepu simply doesn’t offer the same threat.
3 – Will Genia is almost as important to the team as Pocock. When he was injured in the second test his absence was noticeable. His control of the game is superb and his pass is a lot better than the current back up Nick Phipps.
This will be an area of concern for Cheika. Tournament rugby is notoriously tough with games coming thick and fast and there being such a big difference in first and second choice scrumhalf will need to be addressed.
4 – Lukhan Tui and Pete Samu offer a good foil to Hooper and Pocock. Whilst Hooper and Pocock’s game is disruptive and with ball in hand they tend to link the play more, Tui and Samu are power back rowers. This is something Australia has needed for a while.
With George Smith there was Toutai Kefu and Wycliff Palu providing the power. David Lyons had that about his game but there has been a dearth of that in the squad. If Tui’s run on debut was anything to go by and he continues to develop then they may have just found that balance.
5 – The hooker position is still really up for grabs. Brandon Paenga-Amosa started the three tests but Tolu Latu did himself no harm with his performances. The problem both have is their set piece. Their lineout work can be erratic and with Adam Coleman packing down they have a great lineout option, so no excuses.
Both players like ball in hand and Latu’s defence is fierce but they need to make sure that their bread and butter is sorted. Whilst
both are good players, neither can currently be considered world class and this could be an area other teams target.
6 – Cheika seems to have found his preferred back line. The starting backs were only changed due to injury to Genia, with Kurtley Beale at 12 and Samu Kerevi at 13 his centre pairing of choice. Kerevi doesn’t seem to be able to transfer is Super Rugby form to the International stage on a regular basis.
He has all the tools to be a great 13 and foil to Beale but he needs to perform on a regular basis.
7 – Another position with a glaring lack of depth is 10. Bernard Foley is the incumbent but below him there isn’t a whole lot. Quade Cooper seems to be persona non-grata now. Reece Hodge shapes as the backup but 10 it isn’t his preferred position. Foley himself runs hot and cold, with strike players such as Israel Folau and Marika Koroibete out wide giving them time and space would be devastating for opposition, something that doesn’t happen often enough.
8 – As mentioned, a lot of young talent has been given valuable game time against a top team.
This can only bode well for the future and with the Rugby Championship on the horizon, it will give the coaching team more time to
coach and evaluate these players as they start to form the skeleton of their World Cup squad.
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