"You don't win at halftime": No-worries Wallabies back their finishing sprint against England

Rugby World Cup
by Iain Payten

The Wallabies have embraced their standing as the World Cup’s best finishing team, and say they won’t get flustered if they follow their pattern and fall behind against England in the quarter-final.

'You don’t win the game at halftime,” Hooper said.

The Wallabies wrapped up preparations on Friday ahead of their sudden-death quarter-final with England on Saturday, with both sides training under the roof - and out of the rain - in Oita. The Wallabies skipper in 2015, Stephen Moore, was on hand to present the jerseys to the team.

There is a flight home awaiting the loser, and no doubt keen to get the jump early, England will be aware Australia have been slow out of the blocks in all their pool games.

The Wallabies fell behind 21-12 against Fiji by early in the second half, trailed Wales 23-8 at the break and held unconvincing leads over Uruguay and Georgia at oranges.

Australia have finished strongly in each game, however; surging past Fiji, almost knocking off Wales and pushing away from Los Lelos and Los Teros.

Statistics show the Wallabies have scored the most points (53) and most tries in any team in the final quarters at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, and only South Africa (27) and New Zealand (22) have scored more tries overall in the tournament.

Where the Wallabies appeared concerned about their slow starts earlier in the tournament, Hooper indicated a shift in thinking when asked about it at the captain’s run press conference.

Some race horses will want to sit on the pace in the Melbourne Cup but others like to bide their time mid-pack for the sprint finish, and Hooper said the concept of “starting strongly” wasn’t necessarily to do all their scoring in the first half.

“It (starting well) is important to understand and it’s something we’ve looked into, what starting well actually looks like,” Hooper said.

"I am starting to be of the belief that starting well is preparing you well for the back-end of the game when it opens up a bit. 

"Starting well and sticking to your principles early, not getting flustered by things that are happening, not getting flustered by the scoreboard because you don’t win the game at half-time. 

"Yeah we want to start well, what does that actually look like? 

"It looks like sticking to our processes and playing the game we set out to play and being confident with whatever comes at us throughout that period. That’s starting well in my opinion.”

It may be a white-knuckled ride for their fans but the Wallabies aren’t scared to fall behind, confident their fitness and high-tempo game plan, where they get front-foot ball and play on top of England, can see them finish the stronger.

Hooper admitted later he was nervous - “but that’s good, it means you care” - but Michael Cheika gave an indication of the mentality of his team on Thursday by saying the “fear in us is dead” and despite the game situation, they’d attack all afternoon.

Asked if they’d be worried about falling behind against England in the quarter-final, Hooper said: "I think the word you used there, ‘worried’, that's not going to get us anywhere.”

"Being worried would put us into our shell, being worried would not allow us to play the game we want to play,” Hooper said.

"So, if that was the case, we’ve got to have a plan to get out of that, and we will have a plan to get out of that. 

"That’s why we do all this preparation to understand what it looks like in various situations in the game, whatever position we’re in. So it’s not about being worried, it’s about being assertive and making a decision at whatever point and whatever it looks like in that game.”

The eternal problem for Cheika’s high-pace gameplan for the Wallabies is what happens when teams successfully slow Australia’s ball down to low pace with dominant tackles and breakdown pestilence. 

And, via Wallabies mistakes, send the Australian team back to the starting line in their own half via a smart kicking game. 

Or to put it another way - England’s gameplan in every clash with the Wallabies.

Making life tougher for the Wallabies has been a poorly policed breakdown throughout the World Cup, where players have been allowed to disrupt ball illegally; chiefly through coming in at the side, and also resting hands on the ground when trying to poach the ball.

Hooper admitted it was a “tricky” space to negotiate.

“I’ve observed the ruck being refereed in a multitude of ways, not any one way in particular, so it’s made it quite tricky there,” he said.

"You’re looking directly at tomorrow how we can get ourselves into the game, this is a team effort thing, you know, the breakdown, turning the ball over, winning your own ball is a team effort, 1-23, so how we start the game and definitely adapt to what’s going on out there’s pretty crucial to us, we’ll be looking at that in blocks.”

Halfback Will Genia expressed similar concern and said it would be crucial that the Wallabies were clinical at the breakdown.

"They have a forward pack that likes to be physical and obviously that works in and around the breakdown for them as well,” Genia said. 

"If they can make that messy for us it’ll probably disrupt our flow and disrupt our pace and the tempo we want to bring, so that’s an area as a team - a lot of times you think it is just the forward pack - but as a team we have to make a focus on allowing us to play at tempo, so making sure we are clean at that breakdown and accurate at that breakdown area.”

Australia will take on England in their Rugby World Cup quarter-final on Saturday October 19, kicking off at 4:15pm local, 6;15pm AEDT, LIVE on Foxtel, Network Ten and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO, Rugby Xplorer and Amazon Alexa.