The Wallabies picked up their first win of the year on Saturday with a hard fought 23-17 win against South Africa in Brisbane. It certainly wasn’t a classic but it was a much needed win for Cheika and his men. There are lots of questions that are still to be answered but there were the green shoots of recovery starting to show through that provide a small sense of optimism.
Reece Hodge is one of those shoots. His strong, direct running was exactly what was required from a backline that had faltered since the turn of the year. Every time he got the ball he looked to make a positive contribution with it. The confidence clearly coursing through him after his break out year in Super Rugby has transferred itself onto the International stage. Along with his attack, he defended at 12 and did it well. There was a bone crunching hit midway through the second half on Juan De Jongh that showed he is a force to be reckoned with.
There were back line moves! Well at least during the first half there were. Dummy runners, lines being run off Quade Cooper, options all over the place. This is what has been lacking all year from the Wallabies play. Cooper was able to bring Israel Folau into the game a lot earlier, exactly what is needed. He is the most potent attacking force in the backline, the ball needs to get into his hands as early as possible. As the game wore on, the adventure of the Aussies lessened but that comes from confidence. It has been a while since they have won a game and they knew they needed to do just that. The South Africans gave them every opportunity to take points at crucial times which they did and that got the Wallabies over the line.
The partnership of Kane Douglas and Adam Coleman looks like it could bear fruit. Up against, arguably the second best pairing in world rugby of Lood De Jager and Eben Etzebeth, they matched them toe-to-toe. Whilst I am certainly not saying that these players are not skilled, they are not in the samae category of player as Brodie Retallick or Sam Whitelock at the moment. Douglas and Coleman need game time together to create the understanding that exists in the best second row partnerships in World Rugby, should they get it then there will be a very solid foundation that they Wallaby pack can build upon.
Bernard Foley had a much better game at 12. His kicking at goal was the difference between the sides and he took his try well. Behind a pack that had a much stronger foothold in the game and with a backline that had options in every move they ran, he had a lot more time to probe or pick a pass. I still don’t believe this is the way to go forward though. Reece Hodge defended at 12, pushing Foley out to the wing. What would happen should the Wallabies win quick turnover ball Hodge won’t have trained much in the 12 channel. Also, this was South Africa, not New Zealand nor England. In my view they are one of the most poorly run sides in World Rugby. With the talent at their disposal they should be really up there with the best teams in the world.
Instead they elect to try and carry on to bully teams around the park with sheer size and brutality. The Lions showed this season that a fast, attacking game plan can work, so why do they try and do something completely different at International level? That is another discussion.
After their performance for 55 minutes in New Zealand on Saturday, the Argentinians will not be fearing facing the Aussies. If Australia an continue the rugby they were playing in fits and starts in the first 40 minutes against the Boks then they should be ok, if they allow the Pumas to get a roll on then this win maybe perceived as a false dawn.
Written by Rob Seltzer for www.TheRugbyPod.com