On the fly: Wallabies fullback Israel Folau makes a break. Photo: Cameron SpencerIt seems somewhat odd that against the Springboks, the Wallabies sent out their most experienced squad ever, but at the same time were experimenting with what seemed like a new line-up.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is probably the most exposed of the top line international coaches. His coaching philosophy has been on display week in, week out for three years in Super Rugby with the Waratahs. There are few secrets.
However his elevation to the national role and the change of eligibility rules by the ARU has at least given him a fresh deck of cards to deal out.
The playing philosophy is the same as the Waratahs, which is not surprising because so too are the problems. An extended period of underachievement, coupled with a wavering fan base plus a desperate need to re-establish the code high up on the Australian pecking order.
Under Cheika, the Waratahs ball-in-hand game sought to punch holes through the defence with powerful forward runs and pop passes. The Wallabies produced a ball-in-hand game but played with great width thanks to the passing of playmakers Matt Giteau and Quade Cooper.
However, it is all too predictable.
Rival coaches don’t need to be a canny tactician to counter it, they just need the right cattle. Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer had prime beef at Suncorp Stadium.
Time and again as the Wallabies fanned out the width of the field only for a forward, usually Will Skelton, to be isolated with Bismarck Du Plessis and Schalk Burger ready to do the scavenging.
Much has been written about the potential, and selection dilemmas, in the Wallabies backline. It is wasted ink until the forward play is sorted out, because without consistent front-foot ball, the Wallabies backs are not going to win too many important games this year.
For much of the match, the scrum again fell well short of international standard, while the breakdown was the domain of the Boks. David Pocock must start for the Wallabies. It’s a harsh call on Michael Hooper whose workrate and commitment puts him among the top three Wallabies, but as Pocock proved in a World Cup quarter-final four years ago, he is a No.7 who can win a game on his own.
Pocock’s efforts at the breakdown are unrivalled, Hooper’s running game is replicated elsewhere in the team. It’s time to opt for the unique skill.
The Wallabies have been playing two playmakers since the demise of Robbie Deans but not Quade Cooper alongside Matt Giteau.
Both tend to crab across field, while the incumbents from the spring tour, Bernard Foley and Matt Toomua are more direct.
It was however a promising start by Cooper and Giteau. Gaps were found, breaks were made but the lack of finishing polish kept the Wallabies scoreless for 33 minutes. But when they did it was an outside-inside move between pair that allowed Adam Ashley-Cooper to set sail for the tryline.
Cooper was his usual mercurial self but his kicking game automatically lifts him above Foley, although wild flick is not the sort of entertainment fans in gold are seeking.
If Cheika insists on two playmakers, then he needs to mix and match, preferably Cooper and Toomua. When defending set pieces against the Boks, both playmakers were sent to the wings, reducing any counter-attack opportunities should there be a sudden turnover. Toomua can hold his own in the No.12 channel.
Cooper’s last prolonged run in Wallabies colours was in 2013, and it was some of the best rugby of his career. The tries flowed on the spring tour of that year and Cooper was pivotal to it. He even showed maturity by staying away from Dublin pubs after midnight.
The Wallabies won the game by the barest margin thanks to Tevita Kuridrani, inching the ball over the line two minutes after the siren. It was a testament to their fortitude, if not their performance.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.