Where do the Wallabies go from here? Beaten by the Lions, soundly beaten in the Rugby Championship, and defeated by England in the first match of their end of season tour. Things just aren’t going right for Ewen Mckenzie’s side, and it’s difficult to know what to do about it.
It’s not like the Wallabies aren’t a good side. Well, let’s clarify that statemet: it’s not like the Wallabies don’t have a lot of good players. It’s more just that the relative strengths of the players Australia have available to them doesn’t seem to quite transmit to strengths of the team. Yet. However, there’s no reason to push the panic button at this stage, and the crucial thing is that McKenzie must be given time.
What Happened Against England?
In a game of relatively low quality at Twickenham, three tries effectively came from three mistakes. Firstly, Chris Ashton’s naïve defending and a poor tackle attempt from Billy Twelvetrees led to a try for Matt Toomua; then Will Genia’s poor box kick was charged down allowing Chris Robshaw to capitalise; and then the Wallaby defence inexplicably allowed English 10 Owen Farrell to waltz through their defence to clinch the game for red rose of England.
What is concerning for the Wallabies is that England were not that good. If it were 2003 once again, and England were boasting the talents of Jonny Wilkinson, Martin Johnson and co, then this sort of result could be understood, even sympathised with. However, the fact is that England only boasted two Lions test starters, with some pretty inexperienced players also present. For an Australian side who have spent the last few months playing and training exclusively with each other, a loss to this England team is whilst not ignominious, certainly not something to take any sort of pride in.
The Wallabies failed to dominate at the contact area and as any rugby fan will know, the winner of the contact area is generally the winner of the match. How they allowed this to happen is beyond most pundits to explain. In Michael Hooper, Australia have one of the most talented openside flankers in world rugby, and yet he failed to make an impact when up against a back row comprised of three blindsides. McKenzie must look at this, as if Australia’s breakdown threat is compromised, their whole gameplan is thrown off kilter.
Five penalties at scrumtime was another significant factor in the loss, and this will need to be addressed as they progress through the autumn against better scrummaging sides.
What’s Next For The Wallabies?
Thankfully for McKenzie’s men, they’ve got Italy this week. Whilst Italy are no pushovers, they aren’t a Wales, Ireland or France, and the Wallabies will be grateful of the opportunity to grow in confidence against a weaker side.
This is not to say though that Australia do not have to be wary of the Italians. Italy are a formidable prospect at home, and Welsh and Irish teams in arguably better shape than the current Australian team have been undone in Rome before.
This has been an incredible year for the Azzurri so far, with wins in the Six Nations against Ireland and France as well as a brave narrow loss to England at Twickenham. Sergio Parisse’s men will see Australia as a team they can beat, and will not fear McKenzie’s men.
Where The Italians Could Target The Wallabies
Italy’s gameplan revolves around a solid setpiece, and this is definitely an area where they will fancy getting some change from the Wallabies. England targeted Australia at scrumtime, and the Italians will have watched that particular contest and licked their lips.
An Aussie team who prefer a fast and loose game will have to find some way to negate the power of the Italian pack; and Jacques Brunel will want to keep the ball with the forwards and away from Hooper and his turnover ability. In all probability, this will probably result in some ten-man rugby from the Italians, and the Wallabies will need to have a plan to counteract this sort of tactic.
Where Should The Wallabies Target The Azzurri?
It’s time for the Wallabies backs to fire. Two years ago, everyone was heralding the Australian backline as the stuff dreams are made of, and yet not much has really come of these fabled attacking ability.
Italy are weak in the backs, and particularly in their back three, and the Wallabies must use this to their advantage. Getting the ball wide as early as possible will be key, as if Australia can get their strike runners one-on-one with their opposite number, they have every chance of putting a few points on Italy. Ireland are next for Australia, and that will be as tough a game as the England game, and therefore it is imperative that the Wallabies engineer some winning form before their trip to the Aviva.
Who’s Going To Win?
You’d have to say that the Wallabies should be able to sneak this one, but it’s not going to be easy. Australian fans will hope that they’ve learnt from their mistakes of last week, and will channel all their efforts into a big performance on Saturday.