Did the Wallabies just crack the code?
Amongst the helter-skelter nature of the Wallabies’ 24-22 win over the All Blacks, the simplicity of their victory was glossed over.
Four penalty goals; a box-kicking halfback; a ball-running flyhalf, who can kick the living daylights out of the ball; hard-running centres; and a ball-running fullback too. These aren’t the hallmarks of a side that will spread the ball and try to run it from everywhere.
For years the Wallabies have attempted to match the All Blacks by playing the “Australian way”. A second playmaker in the mould of Matt Giteau, Kurtley Beale and Matt To’omua has predominantly been used to add width to their game.
But no-one complained when the Wallabies won ugly on Saturday night. There were only cheers at Suncorp Stadium, and Wallabies jerseys being worn the next morning.
Seldom have three precious points in Australia been so dearly appreciated as goal-kick after goal-kick Reece Hodge led the Wallabies to victory.
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Indeed, the only period of the match where the Wallabies lost their heads was in the 12-minute period after Ofa Tu’ungafasi’s red card.
During that 12-minute period before Lachie Swinton was sent off, the Wallabies conceded three points while failing to score a point themselves, dropped the ball twice, had one pass intercepted, were penalised or lost the ball at the breakdown four times, and turned down two shots at goal. In other words, they over-played their hands with the numerical advantage on the field and went away from what had previously worked: treasuring the ball, a strong defensive line and good tackle technique.
It wasn’t until they went back to what had worked for them – White’s box kicks that forced errors from Rieko Ioane and Beauden Barrett (remember, too, the All Blacks’ struggles in Wellington in Bledisloe I came, in large part, because of the troubles the back three had under the high ball) and Hodge’s massive clearing kick in the 63rd minute – that the Wallabies got back on track.
Even Taniela Tupou’s match sealing try didn’t come from a linebreak, it came from the gigantic tight-head prop trucking the ball up three times in seven phases and getting over the advantage line.
Nor were the Wallabies' linebreaks created through creative pieces of magic, they came from speed on the edges from wingers Tom Wright and Marika Koroibete.
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The All Blacks have been long known as the greatest counter-attacking side in world rugby. Well, starving the All Blacks of opportunities by playing a simpler brand of rugby could be one way to continue their success against them.
Hodge’s selection at fly-half was considered conservative heading into the match. Even now, Wallabies coach Dave Rennie is noncommittal about whether he will lineup in the No.10 jersey again with James O’Connor expected to be fit for their next Test against Argentina.
Perhaps conservatism is what the Wallabies have long needed after all.
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