Not for the first time, the Wallabies have been criticised for turning down shots at goal during their 15-15 draw in Newcastle.
But is the external noise justified?
Michael Hooper opted for the corner on at least four occasions rather than shots at goal, two of which the Wallabies blew at the first instance – the lineout.
But then again, he did point to the posts on six occasions – five of which Reece Hodge nailed, the sixth would have likely won them the game.
Hooper struck the right balance between taking the precious points on offer in Test rugby and working for a try or yellow card.
Had he not kicked for the corner early in the second half (they lost the throw, but won one moments later in a similar position because of their strong field position and the pressure put on the clearing kick), the Wallabies would not have had their numerical advantage (not that they used it effectively) as referee Paul Williams sin-binned Julian Montoya for hands in the ruck.
The Wallabies also showed some excellent variation in attack during the first half, particularly from first-phase. They just didn’t show the skills required to complete the movements, which would have put the Wallabies in a stronger position to go on with the match.
In the 15th minute, Jordan Petaia would have scored had Hunter Paisami’s left-foot grubber not been as hard or it sat up fractionally earlier. It was an excellent piece of first-phase rugby from an attacking advantage and straight out of the Scott Wisemantel (the Wallabies’ attack coach) playbook, who had England scoring more inside the opening five minutes of Tests in 2018-2019 than any other Test nation - often from first-phase.
The second “no try’ came in the seconds before half-time when the Wallabies had another penalty advantage. From first phase, the Wallabies played the exact same play off the rolling maul, which actually went backwards and was brought down, but rather than kicking Paisami played out the back to Reece Hodge who held the ball up, attracted his man and found Tom Banks who couldn’t catch and pass efficiently and passed forward to Marika Koroibete who would have otherwise scored.
In these two instances, the Wallabies should have scored. The latter attacking movement came on the back of a penalty and forced another penalty, which forced Hooper’s hand as he pointed to the posts.
BANKS’ BIGGEST FLAW NOT HELPED BY RUNNING CENTRES
Without natural ball-playing centres and communicators, the Wallabies would benefit from a fullback who can play as a second playmaker.
But that’s not Banks’ game.
Banks’ failure to hit Koroibete has already been pointed out, but his weak left-to-rugby pass that hit the deck near halfway in the second half also illustrated his biggest work-on: passing.
Banks is a running fullback but is yet to find his explosive feet in the international game.
His work under the high ball has improved out of sight and he’s a capable kicker, particularly when aiming for the corner, but with communication and voice needed in the Wallabies’ backline Banks needs to help relieve the pressure at fly-half.
RENNIE NEEDS MORE OUT OF HIS FINISHERS
For the second time in five Tests, replacement playmaker Noah Lolesio didn’t get on the field.
Jake Gordon had his worst of three outings coming off the bench in 2020.
Rob Valetini made his presence felt in defence but couldn’t match it with ball-in-hand, while fellow back-rower Liam Wright couldn’t assert himself either.
And Filipo Daugunu had one or two nice runs, but was found out running the ball back from a clearing kick with his first touch and, later, off a set-piece play when his out the back pass failed to hit the mark.
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Essentially, Rennie needed more from his bench.
In particular, the balance of the back-row replacements still doesn’t feel right.
Valetini is a big body but hasn’t been able to turn promise into dominate performances.
Wright is a workhorse back-rower, but explosiveness from the bench isn’t his game.
WINNING IS AN ART
One of the many benefits from Super Rugby AU is that it allows Australian teams to regularly win.
We saw the Reds and Brumbies regularly win and win consistently in 2020.
And consistency, finding ways to wins or to hold on, are attributes that successful teams have. The Wallabies have had issues with that since 2016 and we’ve seen that twice in 2020.
The All Blacks under Richie McCaw often didn’t play their best, but they found ways to win.
Their World Cup final victory over France in 2011 demonstrated that, but so did their late win over Ireland when Aaron Cruden converted at Lansdowne Road in 2013, Malakai Fekitoa’s 80th minute try against the Wallabies in 2014 in Brisbane and, later, when Ardie Savea crossed late against the Springboks in Pretoria.
Big intervention from Itoje here at lineout time.— Murray Kinsella (@Murray_Kinsella) November 22, 2020
Very accurate work. pic.twitter.com/dW69yjYClY
WORLD RUGBY’S MOST INFLUENTIAL FIGURE
He might not be the England captain, but Maro Itoje represents everything that Eddie Jones wants from his side.
Itoje is the talisman that the Wallabies would desperately love to have in their side.
With everything he does, Itoje makes a presence.
He’s excellent at the lineout, a menace at the maul, strong over the ball and packs a punch in defence.
The calls are getting louder and louder about him earning the British and Irish Lions captaincy. If he did, he would be an excellent choice.
But even if he doesn’t get handed the responsibilities, Itoje is a leader within the side.
The Wallabies need a talisman. They need more leaders who demand excellence and are ruthless in their desire to win.
Yet, it might not mean changing the leader, particularly if it would mean fabricating one from thin air.
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