A familiar tune for the Wallabies

Tue, 15 Nov 2016 08:39

OPINION: rugby365 columnist Brett McKay looks at the roller coaster ride that comes with following the Wallabies.

Here we are in mid-November, and with a Test Cricket series that many Australians would already prefer to forget, the Wallabies are giving us some relief early each Sunday morning.

And after a very up-and-down 2016 for the Wallabies, it's very welcome relief at that.

The 23-22 win over Scotland was only the second time this year the Wallabies have won two on the trot, and even in pushing the total number of wins for the year to five, they will still have to win all three remaining games on tour to finish in the black for 2016.

But like we've seen from the Wallabies so much in the last few years - and probably the last 15 years, if we're honest - last week's impressive win against Wales was followed up by a scrappy performance over the Scots.

In beating Wales 25-8 last week, the Wallabies tried their hand and the passes stuck, and the emphatic 17-point margin could easily have been by 25 or even 30 points. There were at least two bombed tries, and Bernard Foley missed three conversions from the left of the posts; typically, his 'better' side.

The Wallabies were also aided by a surprisingly passive Welsh defence. I didn't quite agree with some of the commentary last week labelling it the worst Welsh side in the last decade, but there is no doubt that they missed tackles out wide early in the game and were never able to stem the flow of Wallabies clean breaks that followed for the rest of the game.

But the Wallabies found no such luck against Scotland, and had to work much harder to breach their well-organised defensive line. Alex Dunbar and Stormers centre and two-try Man of the Match Huw Jones missed just four of the 22 tackles attempted by the centre pairing, and in turn, forced more than a few mistakes of the Wallabies midfield.

Israel Folau was particularly guilty of pushing risky passes in traffic to well-covered supports, when going to ground and recycling quick ball was the better percentage play. And that's a shame, because it took the gloss off what was one of his better Tests this year.

The Wallabies will, however, be very pleased with their set-piece attack, and Reece Hodge's try in the first half came on the back of clean line-out ball in good field position, a wonderful line from Tevita Kuridrani to draw in several midfield defenders, some nice sleight of hand from Folau to find Foley on the loop, and then Hodge's straight line to create the gap.

This was a great sign, because several passes before this had gone to ground, and it hadn't dented the confidence as might have been the case earlier in 2016. More passes went to ground following this play, too, but the Wallabies kept running their set plays, probably a recognition that Scotland's defence in general play wasn't about to break anytime soon.

Regardless, this rocks-or-diamonds existence that the Wallabies reside in continues, and if it carries on with this up one week, down the next pattern, then it should mean they'll be red hot against France this weekend coming, and again a fortnight later against England.

And from a purely narrow-minded, let's-stick-it-up-Eddie-Jones perspective, the Wallabies year-end tour schedule is just about perfect.

Playing Wales first up - who now haven't beaten Australia in the last 12 outings, and only twice since professionalism - allowed the Wallabies to start with confidence, and get their European tour off to the best start.

Matches against Scotland and France, who like Wales are clinging on to top 10 ranking spots and are a way off the top five, allow a good opportunity to build combinations further and try out a few new players here and there.

And that then leaves Ireland and England to finish.

Ireland are always tough to beat, but after kicking off their end of year internationals with their outstanding and historic win over New Zealand in Chicago - and with the return leg in Dublin this weekend - will that much harder again.

But the one game all Wallabies fans are waiting for is the final game of 2016, against England at Twickenham on December 3.

Beating Eddie's mob on their turf won't completely erase the memories of the 3-0 series drubbing at home back in June, but gee, it'll help.

In order to do this, though, the Wallabies must use the France and Ireland games beforehand to iron out the abundant kinks remaining in their game. The Rugby Championship showed that the Wallabies do get better as a group week to week, and this must be the case on this tour.

There is a real chance now for the Wallabies to finish 2016 well. But they will have to be playing their best rugby of the year to do it.

By Brett McKay
@BMcSport
@rugby365com

* Brett McKay is an Australian rugby writer and commentator, who has sat through more Bledisloe Cup and World Cup Final losses than any human should have to endure, and is desperately hoping for a change of luck soon. For regular musings on rugby, sport, and all manner of life's trivialities, you'll find Brett on Twitter at @BMcSport