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Al Baxter: 5 Things We Learnt ...

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By Al Baxter

1.    That was one of the gutsiest Wallaby wins in years.

Absolutely everything was against the Qantas Wallabies for this Test: their horrendous injury toll, the travel, the crowd and the press. Add to this the Pumas were saying goodbye to one of their veteran front rowers (Rodrigo Roncero) and saw this as their best chance to post their first win in the inaugural Rugby Championship. It really could of added up to being a recipe for disaster for the Wallabies. However, this inexperienced side displayed extraordinary determination and character to clock up a solid (albeit not always pretty) win against a passionate Pumas side in Rosario. In no small way this win can be attributed to:

2.    Nathan Sharpe and Robbie Deans performing brilliantly.

Nathan had another solid game physically but his real brilliance lay in his ability to keep the team focused when it mattered most. There were many stages during the Test when some of the less experienced players could of easily let their focus drift; as lasers were being shone at the kickers, when Kane Douglas was forced from the field early, when the ball became a piece of soap in the humidity or when Brett Sheehan was sent from the ground as the game lay in the balance. With every new distractions Nathan brought the team together and drove them forward to take the win. Credit must also go to Robbie for his selections before the game and his substitutions during it. Robbie created a massive forward pack and a strong defensive backline from the few players he had available, which worked perfectly to counter an attack orientated Pumas back line and their formidable forward pack. He also timed his substitutions wonderfully with the excellent use of Robinson, Dennis and Gill.

3.    The Wallaby Scrum was superb.

Unlike in the last Test against the Pumas where the Wallaby scrum started well but dropped off, this game they only became stronger as the game continued. This was a brilliant 8 man, 80 minute performance from the Wallaby pack but special mention must go to Benn Robinson who was powerful when he came on as a replacement.

On the other hand though,

4.    The high ball is still an area of great concern for the Wallabies.

Admittedly the Wallabies best performers under the high ball, Adam Ashley Cooper and Berrick Barnes, were not playing but their replacements did not have a good night in that area. Unfortunately for Digby Ioane, his difficulty in holding onto the ball seemed also to extend to the rest of his game with some very uncharacteristic ball handling mistakes from the Australians only try scorer. The All Blacks will certainly look to target this area in a fortnight in Brisbane.

5.    It’s going to be tough for Robbie to find a spot for a couple of his stars returning from injury.

One of the few benefits of having lost a number of key players during the season is that it has given some of the fringe players the opportunity to shine. Hooper has been superb in every Test he has played, Sharpe has shown his strength as a leader, Beale has performed his best at 10 and Gill has made a discernable impact every time he takes the field. All this gives Robbie a much desired selection dilemma when Pocock, Horwill, O’Connor and Palu return. Add to this the solid performances of Phipps, Timani and Harris and it should make for a very strong Qantas Wallabies squad heading into Europe in November.