Saturday 20 January 2018 / 06:08 PM

Wallabies' win provides more questions than answers

Australia woke to the incredible news on Sunday that former rugby league star Jarryd Hayne had made the San Francisco 49ers’ 53-man NFL roster, but the rugby union boys from Down Under were decidedly unimpressive a couple of hours later in their stateside jaunt.

The Wallabies ultimately had too much firepower for the USA Eagles at Chicago’s Soldier Field, prevailing 47-10, but it was a scratchy performance that would have done little to allay the pessimism surrounding their upcoming World Cup campaign.

Australia led just 14-10 at halftime, before running in five unanswered tries in the second stanza – including three in the final 12 minutes – to run out comfortable winners.

Ranked a lowly 16th in the world, USA consistently bustled their No.2-ranked opponents into error and sparked hopes of one of the great international rugby boilovers when Mike Petri crossed for the hosts’ only try. Even Russell Crowe was impressed by the underdogs’ spirit.

Despite scoring a try each during the first half, out-of-sorts halves combination Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps were again disappointing. Phipps, in particular, produced a mistake-riddled performance, while Foley is struggling for rhythm in attack and seems a shadow of the player that enjoyed a breakout season for the Waratahs and Wallabies in 2014.

Will Genia impressed off the bench and seems certain to be the first-choice No.9 when the World Cup rolls around, but the decision to leave Nic White at home and take only two halfbacks is already looking like a major gamble.

Flyhalf remains coach Michael Cheika’s biggest problem area, with Foley and Quade Cooper failing to put their stamp on the position so far during the 2015 international schedule. He may be forced to pitch Matt Toomua or Matt Giteau into the No.10 jumper in order to spark the Wallabies’ misfiring backline.

Wycliff Palu was well off the pace for the second Test in a row and it now seems a fait accompli that Cheika will go with the Hooper-Pocock combination at openside flanker and No.8, while wingers Rob Horne and Joe Tomane were average at best and Henry Speight did little after getting a surprise call-up at centre.

On the positive side, Melbourne Rebels young gun Sean McMahon indicated he is ready to play a key role off the bench at the World Cup with a stellar man-of-the-match effort, while Kurtley Beale had a fine game at fullback and inside-centre; the temptation to find a starting spot for versatile game-breaker – perhaps in the No.12 with Giteau at flyhalf – must be growing within Cheika.

Somewhat mercifully, the Wallabies open their campaign with matches against Fiji and Uruguay, allowing Cheika some more much-needed experimentation time ahead of the crunch clashes with England and Wales. It should also be noted that only a handful of the players that started against the Eagles are likely to be part of Cheika’s eventual first-choice XV.

But the biggest boost Australia’s ‘pool of death’ cause received this weekend was arguably Wales’ devastating double injury blow, with halfback Rhys Webb and fullback Leigh Halfpenny stretchered off in their 23-19 win over Italy. Only two teams from each pool progress to the quarter-finals, and Wales’ misfortune has vastly increased the likelihood of England and Australia advancing.

[YouTube – ARU TV]

First published by AU Tribune

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