Patience and restraint the keys to Wallabies fixing first-half issues: White

Rugby World Cup
by Iain Payten

Being patient and playing with “more restraint” in the opening 40 minutes is the fix needed by the Wallabies to not only get their World Cup back on track, but make history and win the thing. 

That's the view of senior Wallabies Nic White and Scott Sio, who said belief levels in the Australian camp are still high despite the loss to Wales at the weekend in Tokyo.

The Wallabies were the first side to win two World Cups and they’ll now have to write another chapter of tournament history to win from their position, given no team since 1987 has ever dropped a pool game and triumphed.

The loss means the Wallabies will likely now face England and New Zealand in the playoffs, pending victories in their last two pool games against Uruguay and Georgia.

It’s a steep challenge but White said the Aussie team were focusing on the silver lining of their narrow defeat to the Welsh; namely that for the second game, the Wallabies played poorly in the first half but still managed to win one, and come within a whisker of victory in the second.

With the necessary adjustments to their game, White said the Wallabies were focussing on their still un-realised potential at the World Cup.

"We know how we good we are, we’ve shown in the back half of games that if we can get that start right and not let teams get away on us; as you said the potential is there,” White said. 

“Our game’s looking really good but we’re just giving teams a leg-up early on. If we can sort that out, the feeling within the group is that we feel really good.

"I know that sounds silly coming after a loss there but there was a lot of confidence coming out of that we could be in control if we didn’t give away some points there which we kind of gave them a lot. 

"We feel like we’re well and truly still in this and there’s a lot of confidence in there that if we touch up a few things, get the start right, it’s all there for us.”

Getting the start right is not just a cliche, either. Winning a Test match is hard enough but statistics show the Wallabies are around three times less likely to secure victory if they trail at halftime. In the professional era, Australia have won 83% of Tests when leading at halftime and just 27% when they trail.

The Wallabies lacked discipline and smarts in the opening half in both Sapporo and Tokyo - mostly by being too loose and lateral - and twice managed to wake up late to the fact a tight and direct game style is more effective.

Asked why Australia were digging the same-looking hole for themselves each game, White said: "I don’t know. Good question. We’re looking for the answer at the moment and should we find it, hopefully we do, not going to tell you or the opposition."

"It’s tough. (We are) just really excited. We want to play footy and get out there and maybe we have got to be a little bit more patient early on,” White said.

“Certainly I don’t think it’s a case of us not being ready or wanting it. Maybe we’re too excited and just got to build into the game a bit more and maybe show a bit more restraint."

"But again it’s maybe what you’ve said there, earning the right (to go wide).

“Teams may be good early on when they’re fresh, defensively, and as you’ve seen towards the back end of the game there’s a lot of tired bodies that are out there and that’s maybe the time to move the ball around and play our style. 

"But we’re figuring it out, it’s certainly not too little too late, we’ve still got a lot to play for and we feel alright. So touch up on a few of those things, take those learns and we feel pretty confident.”

White said the balance between coach’s instructions and on-field adaptation was “a little from column A and a little from column B” but said playmakers should be responding better.

Sio said the Wallabies were not wallowing in the doldrums after their pool loss, and when reminded it would take history for Australia to now win the tournament, the prop said there was no reason why they couldn’t be the team to make it.

“For sure. Over history everyone loves an underdog story and you know Aussies have always been a part of that and we feel like this group is something that can achieve something special,” Sio said. 

"Like I said, whether it is a win or a loss we just have to back our process, trust in the preparation in the week and come ready to perform on the weekend. 

"We lost on the weekend, it is what it is, we've reviewed it and we are moving forwards and we are looking forwards to playing Uruguay this weekend and another big game." 

White played down the impact he was able to bring from the bench, saying it was the same scenario as they week before when Will Genia sparked the Wallabies against Fiji.

"In these conditions everyone gets pretty tired and you’re coming on with fresh legs so it’s exciting and it’s a different role but one that Willy had really good pay in the first week and obviously there was some tired bodies on the weekend and I came on,” he said.

"It’s a different role but one that either one of us can play. “

White said Matt Toomua strong form off the bench can be viewed in a similar vein.

"I think Matty’s just, like I said before, starting and finishing are two different roles, and like we said before, the beauty of sitting on the bench is you get to look at the game and Matty saw that flattening up and playing on top of them [Wales] with his hard running could potentially help the team and it did,” White said.

"He came on and really brought some direct play there. But like I said before, it’s just different for the finishers and we’re getting a lot of pay there; whoever wears whatever jersey they can do the job starting or finishing through the whole team.”