The Wallabies have not become a bad side based on one disappointing performance. In the long term, they might even take more positives than the All Blacks from the latest result.
It is time now to seriously embrace a ‘3D Rugby’ strategy against the Boks. The 3D approach demands unmitigated focus on aggressive defence, strict adherence to on-field discipline and the ability to nail down detail on the run.
Defence, Discipline and Detail. The Wallaby forwards in particular came up well short in all three areas a fortnight ago against the rampant All Blacks.
The pack was both passive and reactive. A unit response became an individual one. NZ’s intensity, speed of thought and slick execution simply overwhelmed the shellshocked Men in Gold.
Much of the good work across the previous eight match unbeaten run was unravelled. Communication in defence went out the window. So did an urgent swiftly advancing defensive line.
Rob Simmons’ sin binning for lifting an opponent’s leg in the maul was akin to rugby suicide. His absence directly responsible for two converted tries. From a scrambling, holding pattern at 6-9 after 25 minutes, the deficit spiraled to 6-23.
Restarts lacked variety, cleanouts lacked conviction and accuracy and players did not react when the Kiwis loaded extra backs into their driving maul which led to two bonus tries. Passes were not out in front, wrong options were taken.
In the context of Australia’s resurgence under Ewen McKenzie, this latest humiliation was a devastating outcome. The Kurtley Beale gamble at no.10 did not achieve the desired outcomes and he pays the price.
But guess what? After the loss, the sun came up next morning in Auckland. The wounded, underperforming Wallabies flew back to Sydney with tails between their legs.
Thankfully for all concerned they now get a chance to right the wrong. The selection of Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley in the halves gives the Waratahs five of the seven backs.
The NSW pair bring a different dynamic. Like All Blacks’ scrum half Aaron Smith, Phipps probes the ruck defence for weaknesses and has the strength to take a gap. Similarly, Foley will attack in the faces of the South African defenders.
However neither will be effective if the Wallaby forwards do not adhere to ‘3D Rugby’. Before kick-off at Eden Park, vice captain James Slipper said the biggest focus of the Australian forwards was “matching the physicality of the All Blacks”.
That did not happen as we all observed. This weekend it has to be a case of ‘deeds not words’. Rookies like Sam Carter and Jim Hansen were on the receiving end of a forward master class. Their education was significantly fast-tracked.
The Springboks enjoy their reputation as the most physical team in world rugby. They come off two torrid clashes with the vastly improved Argentine Pumas who have outscored them over their last three halves of test rugby.
Australia take note. You could throw a blanket over the Puma forwards in both matches. Their scrum was always an eight man effort and twice in the Salta clash, they shunted the massive Springbok pack off the ball. Eight forwards as one. Love it!
Argentina also employed a flat attack against South Africa and were arguably the better team. They moved the ball quickly into space with fly-half Nicholas Sanchez an outstanding conductor. Foley can play a similar role.
Tevita Kuridrani adds attacking thrust and robust defence in midfield. His clash with outstanding 21 yo Jan Serfontein will have a big bearing on Australia’s fortunes if the big Fijian finds space for Adam Ashley-Cooper and Israel Folau.
Goalkicking will be vital this weekend. In Morne Steyn, the Boks have the best in the business while Foley will need to replicate the accuracy of Beale who kicked eight from eight, his ninth attempt hit the post.
Although this is a must win for the Wallabies, coach McKenzie needs clear heads and a positive attacking mindset from his players. If they nail the detail, defence and discipline, the result will take care of itself.