Last weekend’s climax to one of the most drawn out Six Nations campaigns in living memory provided us with much to talk about. There was the rebirth, genuine this time, of French rugby. England as expected showed that while perhaps not as flash as everyone else there are few teams that have such an effective workman like ethic to getting the job done. Scotland demonstrated that they are a force (albeit inconsistent) to be reckoned with. Ireland showed lots of promise in their new talent, but an old guard that is rapidly starting to lose its shine. Wales fell from the dizzying heights of Grand Slam champions last year to competing with Italy to avoid holding the wooden spoon. Lastly Italy, twenty years into the competition, failed to really show much progress yet again and lifted the wooden spoon for the fifteenth time, and fifth year in a row – causing the debate about whether or not they deserve their place in the competition to raise its ugly head once more.
Meanwhile in a land down under the Wallabies imploded on home soil in a rather spectacular fashion, as the brave new dawn we saw for them in Wellington at the start of the Bledisloe rapidly turned into the onset of a long, dark and gloomy winter. New Zealand meanwhile tuned up their engine another few notches and made an absolute mockery of claims made post the World Cup that they were losing their edge, as they completely outplayed and outclassed a Wallaby side that simply didn’t know what had hit them. In the process the All Blacks have identified the new spine of a team that looks set to make everyone else continue to challenge them for world domination. The Webb Ellis trophy may currently have taken up residence in South Africa, but a certain group of individuals in black jerseys clearly want it back.
Six Nations 2020
It only took four times as long to complete this year as a result of COVID 19, but as our first proper look at the Northern Hemisphere teams since the World Cup, it certainly provided lots of insight on progress made and progress lost. England look set to carry on from a positive World Cup experience despite their major hiccough at the last hurdle. France have at long last risen from the ashes of some very lean years. Wales have gone backwards at a rate of knots since their heady successes of 2019 and a Coaching change. Ireland have also experienced a Coaching update but so far the jury is still out on whether it’s a success or not as Ireland seem to have more questions than answers at the moment. Scotland look set to be everyone’s dark horse for the next four years, but rarely consistent and at a clear disadvantage once injuries set in in terms of depth which will continuously hold them back. Lastly Italy’s head is once more on the chopping block in terms of global respect as they sift through the ashes of yet another disastrous Six Nations campaign.
England’s dismantling of Italy last weekend in Rome, 34-5, was a solid if unspectacular performance. England are effective make no mistake, and have emerged from this Six Nations as both deserved Champions and a side that is clearly building on the momentum built at the last World Cup despite the disappointment of a serious schooling by South Africa in the final. England in this Six Nations have shown that they have a wealth of exceptional talent, much of which has a good two World Cup cycles ahead of them.
Our overall impression of England is of a team that has a workmanlike approach to what they are trying to do through a well thought out game plan. However we didn’t get a real understanding of England’s creativity, especially when their game plan simply doesn’t go according to plan, or the opposition figures them out. Under Coach Eddie Jones’ tenure, our feeling is that England is brutally effective at executing the game plan they develop during the week leading up to a Test, but should the opposition figure it out during the course of a match and start undoing it, England still seem to lack the ability to adapt said game plans to changing circumstances on the field. As a result they look great with a rehearsed script and know their lines probably better than any team out there at the moment, but the minute that script no longer fits the plot, their improvisation skills seem somewhat lacking.
Before the match we said that we thought that England would be unhappy with anything less than a haul of 50 points. The fact they were only able to score 34, against a spirited but often ineffective Italian side should set alarm bells ringing. You can’t really blame it on the away factor, as sure it was in Rome, but no teams at the moment are benefitting from home advantages and supporting crowds. Empty stadiums are the norm for rugby in the Northern Hemisphere and players could be playing anywhere and not really know the difference until they actually walk out of the grounds after the final whistle.
Ireland the weekend before were able to get 50 points on the Italians, and Ireland at the moment lack the cohesion or effectiveness of England. In short, England did enough in Rome but failed to impress in a match which given their quality they should have simply run away with. Ben Youngs should feel relatively pleased with his 100th cap, especially as he bagged England’s first try and would start the second half with another. However, he won’t feel so happy with his defensive lapses that resulted in Italy’s one and only try ten minutes later. England’s defensive structures in broken play still look a bit suspect in our opinion. The Men in White look great with ball in hand and defensively in their own 22, but in broken play outside of the 22 England often look vulnerable and unable to reset themselves as quickly as countries like France or New Zealand. If England get wrong footed in this part of the park, then it’s a fairly sage bet that the opposition will be crossing the whitewash.
While England got the job done, there were only three players who really made us sit up and take notice. Ben Youngs at scrum half was outstanding and has clearly silenced his critics (ourselves included), who felt that heading into the World Cup, the Leicester man was well past his sell by date and England desperately needed to find an effective replacement – which Willi Heinz was not. Our concerns still hold that England do need to develop their resources at nine and the next 12 months will be critical in this regard, but during this next World Cup cycle they couldn’t ask for a better mentor than Youngs.
Powerful back rower Tom Curry once more demonstrated what a vital cog he is to England’s ambitions over the next four years. It may not have been his best game but his one try once again highlighted what a powerful player he is with ball in hand. Throughout the match his work in defense and generally making life difficult for Italy in the set pieces and the loose showed what a valuable player he is to England’s cause and a core part of the team’s spine.
Alongside Curry is England’s second row menace in the shape of Maro Itoje. A player who puts in a huge shift every match, and whether you like it or not gets completely under the skin of every team he’s up against. Itoje just rattles the opposition plain and simple and throws them off their stride at every opportunity. It’s an old forward tactic, and often skirts around the edges of the laws, but Itoje has clearly mastered it and England benefit as a result.
As for the great Owen Farrell Captaincy debate – we’re still not convinced. Not convinced he is the right man for the job but unsure of who you’d put in his place. Fortunately he wasn’t required to tackle much in the game against Italy, so at least England didn’t have to wonder if he’s managed ot get to grips with his technique in that department. Itoje is a possible option, but in many ways as the team’s chief enforcer he may not be best suited to the role. Tom Curry in our opinion would be a solid bet leading into the World Cup, but not just yet. Consequently, it’s likely that Farrell will remain steering the England ship for at least the next year or two, but England do need to look with an eye to the long term at his replacement both in terms of leadership and his position on the field.
As for the rest of the England Six Nations squad, it’s an impressive unit make no mistake but as creative as say France or New Zealand, sadly not. There is some genuine talent in its ranks and it is likely to only get better, but for now it’s a side that gets the job done but rarely captures the imaginaiton. England are wisely perhaps not laying all their cards on the table just yet, and the next twelve months will no doubt see continued refinements and the development of new talent. The Men in White are clearly not the finished product just yet, but there are some pretty impressive blueprints already laid out on the drawing table.
England may have won the Championship, but France won the contest for the hearts and minds of spectators by a country mile. They simply played some sublime rugby this tournament. They wouldn’t be France if they didn’t find the odd banana skin to slip on, and Scotland kindly supplied that for them in Edinburgh just before the pandemic lockdown. But apart from that they were the team to watch and then some. The superlatives came thick and fast for this French squad, and although the cliche term “French flair” came back into fashion, this time it was backed up less by luck and more by sound decision making and organisation. Instead of laissez faire loosely structured moments of brilliance, France now look exceptionally well organised with a clear idea of what they are trying to do and how to do it. In short, France are back and it’s no flash in the pan this time. They mean to do business in three years time at their own World Cup and have given themselves the structures and resources to do so. Well coached, well drilled and blessed with some genuine world class talent that is only just starting to hit its stride – France look sharp and very dangerous once more.
Although France’s 35-27 victory over Ireland last weekend destroyed Ireland’s Championship hopes, France may be slightly disappointed that they weren’t able to make the points difference higher, as they were by far the better team on Saturday. Although they had less of the possession and territory than Ireland, in some cases by a considerable margin, the difference was they used it so much more effectively. Some of their attacks were thwarted by Irish defences, but France’s ability to spot the gaps and holes was outstanding, and for the most part once found Les Bleus made them count which translated into points on the board.
There is no denying that a lot of this is down to their brilliant and youthful halfback pairing of Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack. These two geniuses barely out of Test Rugby kindergarten are two very special players indeed. We’ll be seeing and talking a lot of and about these two characters over the coming years and rightly so – they have put the zing back into international rugby. If they are this good now imagine how good they’ll be come 2023.
However, it’s not just all about France’s dynamic duo, there are many other aspects of their game that also work incredibly well. They have a competitive front five once more, even if it still could use a bit of tweaking in the discipline stakes. Their back row is simply magnificent. Captain Charles Ollivon leads by example and is an inspirational leader on the pitch. Gregory Aldritt just gets better with every outing in the number eight jersey and his work rate and tackle count was off the charts last weekend in Paris.
France have always had pacy backs, but now allied to a pack that is constantly going forward and creating opportunities from broken play, France’s try scoring abilities out wide look less opportunistic and much more planned. Virimi Vakatawa is a force of nature, even if Ireland managed for the most part to keep him in check last Saturday. Gael Fickou is back to his best and there is no shortage of quality wingers and centres in France these days.
In short, we can’t find too much to critique in the 2020 French vintage. It’s still finding it’s feet and needs to develop some longer legs, but looks likely to mature and age well so that in three years time it could be at its very best!
Ireland could have ended last weekend as Six Nations Champions. We never thought they were going to and sadly were proven right. They needed four tries in Paris and try scoring is and hasn’t been Ireland’s strong suit. We rarely see Ireland getting past the three try marker on average in Test matches, hence us thinking the ask of four tries and on the road to boot, was just not something Ireland have much collective knowledge of doing. It’s been one of the weak links in an otherwise very good team for a number of years now, even under the exceptional Joe Schmidt as Coach. If you want a team that knows how to score tries and lots of them, then don’t look at Ireland. Ireland are good at controlling games and chipping away at the scoreline through the boot, but getting the big points is just not their forte. Unfortunately if Ireland really are to progress beyond the quarter finals at a World Cup for the first time then this needs to change. New Coach Andy Farrell seems to want his charges to play a more open and less structured brand of rugby than that favored by his predecessor, but at the end of the day it’s still not bringing in the points.
Ireland has more than enough talent to get to where it needs to be, but seems to lack the Coaching direction to enable it to get there. The ball skills just aren’t there with any degree of consistency, and all too often a promising run of play ends in a messy pile of bodies close to the 22 but with nothing to show for it. In short, plenty of talent but often undercooked in the execution phase and rarely able to turn possession into points. Ireland dominated the territory and possession statistics last weekend in Paris, but their phase play degenerated into attritional assaults on a well organised French defensive setup. Frustration and tempers rose and all too often Ireland found themselves back deep inside their own half, having to start all over again. That’s just exhausting and increases the error count once you get the ball back exponentially.
While there were lots of surprises from France on Saturday there were none from Ireland. Throw into the mix some sloppy defensive work, a seemingly endless run of simple handling errors and a kicking game that was all too predictable and poorly executed at times, and it was inevitable it was only going to end badly for Ireland on Saturday.
One of the big talking points of the weekend was Jacob Stockdale’s performance at fullback. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – he simply isn’t a Test fullback, despite his success in the position at provincial level. He had a shocker of a game on Saturday, and to be brutally honest, his defence at times looked almost lazy to add insult to injury. He may well evolve into the position at Test level, but at the moment he is more than just a few cards short in that deck. Ireland sorely missed Jordan Larmour in the role on Saturday, and despite some of Larmour’s critics, we felt he was gelling very nicely into the job before injury put it on hold.
Captain Jonathan Sexton came under a considerable amount of fire from the press and public after his facial expressions got telecast around the world when he was taken off the pitch, especially as Ireland were showing signs of coming to terms with the enormity of the task ahead of them. As much as he is a leader who wears his heart on his sleeve, there is a time and place for everything and Sexton does at times get carried away with a sense of self-importance inappropriate to the role. As much as we think he is one of Ireland’s greatest players, some of that aura is starting to look like ancient history as some of his more recent appearances have not matched up to it. While he boldly proclaims that he wants to keep playing till he’s 40 – with all due respect Johnny we hope that’s just the Guinness talking. The remarkable Sexton of 2016-2018 is seen less and less often these days, and a replacement simply has to be groomed and fast. As far as we’re concerned the sooner second rower James Ryan gets groomed for the Captaincy role the better. Despite his tender years he’s been Ireland’s one consistent performer in the lean period of the last 18 months and has demonstrated a calm head under pressure that has had a positive influence on his teammates.
Much the same could be said of Sexton’s half back partner Conor Murray. These two were arguably two of the world’s finest from 2016 – 2018 but increasingly have become more and more predictable. Murray had a better game than he has in a while last Saturday, but his trademark box kicking has now become so well read by opposition sides, that much of its effectiveness has been lost. He was slightly quicker off the back of the rucks and scrums last weekend, but was nowhere near the lighting quick reflexes and decision making of his French opposite number. Once again just like Sexton, Ireland need a long-term solution here and we don’t think Kiwi import Jamison Gibson-Park is it.
The jury is still out for us on new Coach Andy Farrell. He certainly seems to favour a more unstructured approach to Ireland’s game plan after the rigidity of the Schmidt era. Unfortunately though it’s execution all too often seems lacking. A lot of the basics needed seem to be missing, perhaps not helped by a raft of newcomers getting a deserved start in Ireland’s two final Six Nations matches. The game time for newer players is something we wholeheartedly applaud and felt Schmidt was far too cautious in this regard. As a result it’s perhaps early days to judge Farrell’s tenure, so we’ll reserve judgement till the end of the year, as Ireland have two matches that will tell us a lot about how the changeover is progressing, as they take on Wales and England.
Despite the question marks surrounding Ireland, there is some promising talent emerging and perhaps the Emerald Isle can consider itself blessed with remarkable stocks in the back row department. These last two matches have seen some excellent shifts from newcomers Caelan Doris and Will Conors. When you consider that Ireland also has at its disposal Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan, Dan Leavy, Max Deegan, Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander, it is in ridiculously rude health here heading into 2021.
The front row is capably served though they met their match in France with les Bleus tending to call the shots. The second row while not having as much depth as the back row still looks healthy. The halfback pairing needs some work and development as does cover for the fullback position, though on the wings Ireland does look respectable with a good balance of youth and experience. It’s in the centres where Ireland need some imagination. In their defence we thought Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki had one of their best games in quite a while, so there is nothing to fault here overall. However, Ireland clearly missed the spark and ingenuity of the injured Gary Ringrose in France who offers a great deal more variety and unpredictability in attack in the centre channels than the straight through the middle option preferred by Henshaw, Aki and Chris Farrell.
It’s going to be an interesting six months for Ireland as they seek to carve out a new identity under Farrell, and we await the judgement by results to see whether he and his charges have developed an effective approach to the challenges that lie ahead. We sincerely hope that Ireland is not heading back into a period of lean times after the successes of the last few years – with the talent at its disposal barring some depth issues it would be a tragedy if it did.
Despite only finishing fourth, it was a pretty tidy Six Nations for the Scots and in the process they played some captivating rugby. Although falling out of favor with Coach Gregor Townsend, whiz kid fly half Finn Russell was returned to the squad in October for the final round against Wales and immediately made an impact. However, it should also be pointed out that without him Scotland managed to topple the mighty French earlier in the year. Scotland managed a healthy win over Italy and last weekend a much needed away victory against the Welsh – something they hadn’t achieved in 18 years. Their two losses to England and Ireland were only by a seven point margin, so in all Scotland have been contenders this year from start to finish.
During the course of the tournament, back rower stalwart Hamish Watson impressed throughout while his younger cohort Jamie Ritchie was outstanding and must have surely booked a place on the Lions flight to Johannesburg next year. Their front row looked highly reliable and often provided Scotland a stable platform, while Jonny Gray was a consistent performer in the second row.
Scotland will be concerned as they head into the Autumn Nations Cup without the services of either Finn Russell or Adam Hastings at fly half, with Hastings set to miss next year’s Six Nations as well. We just don’t see any depth here for Scotland and the lack of a fly half of Russell or Hastings’ caliber for the remainder of 2020 may undo some otherwise stellar progress made by Scotland this year.
In the backs though Scotland does not appear to be missing either Sean Maitland or Tommy Seymour. Wonder kid Graham Darcy is electric any time he gets his hands on the ball on the wing, fullback Stuart Hogg is a legend in his own time and Blair Kinghorn can easily cover both positions with a very useful boot to contribute to proceedings as well. There is some promising emerging talent to the point where Scotland has become for the most part, like France, a highly entertaining side to watch.
Scotland’s Achilles Heel is depth. They can field a quality match day 23 without question, but the minute the medics appear Scotland suddenly starts to look distinctly lightweight. This Autumn Nations Cup will tell us a great deal about Scotland’s stocks in this department, and we hope for their sake that a dynamic team that shows a high level of skill coupled to some good old fashioned grit can continue to build on what has been a rather promising year so far.
How the mighty have fallen! From Grand Slam Champions to facing stirring their morning porridge with a Wooden Spoon, Wales will want to brush the memory of 2020 under the carpet as soon as possible. Their only positive this year was thumping Italy at home 42-0. However their final loss to Scotland 14-10 this past weekend at home, for the first time in 18 years, hit hard. Life under new Coach Wayne Pivac, despite the New Zealander’s remarkable success with Welsh provincial side Scarlets, has got off to the worst possible start. Life looks unlikely to get any easier with a tough away trip to Ireland, followed by hosting England in the Autumn Nations Cup. Their only respite may be Georgia, but the feisty Tier 2 nation has a history of causing trouble for their Celtic hosts.
Captain and legendary second rower Alun Wyn-Jones cemented his place in history last weekend against the Scots by becoming the most capped player in Test Rugby. A remarkable acheivement by a remarkable player, but one he no doubt would have chosen to celebrate in a more propitious year for Wales than 2020 has so far turned out to be. Even the great man has often been quieter than expected this year, though more likely because the frustration of leading a side consistently misfiring is getting to him.
However, it hasn’t just been Alun Wyn-Jones who has had a quieter year at the office. Regular Lineout favorites like back rower Justin Tipuric have often failed to make the news in 2020. Welsh scrums and a lot of their set piece work was weak, and more often than not it was the opposition calling the shots. In the midfield Wales look utterly lifeless, while out wide and at fullback, they seem unsure of themselves even with the return to service of aerial master Liam Williams. In short Wales have just looked well off the boil this year, and let’s be honest rather quiet and far removed from their usually boisterous selves.
Does that mean Wales are in decline? We’d argue slightly adrift, but in decline no. There were enough flashes of individual brilliance to reassure us that Wales can still put together a strong squad. The problem is that none of these individual talents are working together as a unit. In five Six Nations performances there were only a few times where we could genuinely get a sense that Wales had some sort of game plan and the players actually knew their lines. We don’t think it’s going to be an easy autumn for the Welsh, but some valuable lessons are likely to be learnt to get them back to the point where they can once more approach a Six Nations Championship with a sense of optimism. In short, more pain is likely in store but hopefully with some long term gain.
Italy made this year the fifteenth time in twenty years that they held the Wooden Spoon in the Six Nations. Like we and everyone else does at the start of every new season for Italy, there was a sense of optimism and a belief that with yet another new Coach this would be the year that Italian rugby would show signs that a third or even higher place finish would help silence their critics. Even more importantly it would be year that would put an end to the cries of those baying for their demotion from the Six Nations in favor or an emerging European nation such as Georgia. At the end of the year we all end up writing the same platitudes – enthusiastic, courageous and some promising talent. Ultimately though the results are depressingly similar year after year and end on the note – ‘there’s always next year’ – as Italy once more fall well short of the mark.
It’s all become sadly too familiar and getting harder and harder to find the positives, let alone answers. Replacing Italy with Georgia won’t necessarily make the Six Nations more competitive. Georgia are likely to get just as much if not more of a hiding than the hapless Italians, so what good demotion for Italy and promotion for Georgia would do either side is debatable, as the rest of the teams simply see them as mere cannon fodder and an easy points haul.
What Italy does have going for them and what England Coach Eddie Jones must be wondering how the England selectors let him get away, is back rower Jake Polledri. In Italy’s 34-5 loss to England, Polledri was inspirational and his outstanding try was just reward for a world class performance. The sad thing is that Polledri is for the most part in a league of his own in the Italian team, and just like his predecessor Sergio Parisse, he is in danger of becoming the sole focal point of Italy’s efforts on the pitch, In desperation a mind set of “just give it to Parisse” and expect him to perform miracles often took hold forcing the legendary Italian Captain to fulfill mutiple roles on the pitch. We fear if not managed quickly Polledri is in danger of heading down the same slippery slope. His talents are there for all to see but the team can’t expect him to continuously operate for the Italian team as a whole – rugby perhaps more than any other is a team sport.
During the course of this Six Nations, as always there were some impressive youngsters bursting onto the scene, perhaps none more so than fly half Paolo Garbisi. Garbisi is a genuine world class talent in the making, however as happens all too often in Italian rugby, a series of crushing defeats could snuff out this bright light sooner rather than later as confidence and morale in the team as a whole spiral downwards. It’s not all bad news. We often liked what we saw in the second row, and Italy has a competent and competitive back row, led by the aforementioned Jake Polledri who could easily get into a Six Nations representative match day 23. Scrum half Marcello Violi has quick if inaccurate hands, and Italy’s backs are not afraid to chance their hand in space but often their execution lets them down. Matteo Minozzi is genuinely world class at fullback but far too injury prone for Italy to be able to bank on his talents with any degree of consistency. The will is there but the skill set coupled to some regular lapses of discipline and technique continue to plague the Italians.
New Coach Franco Smith has his work cut out for him between now and the next World Cup to pull Italy up by their bootstraps and ensure that they can challenge for a mid table in the Six Nations and the ultimate fantasy of a quarter final date at the next World Cup. Lofty but not impossible ambitions, and Italy although failing to impress yet again will require our patience for another three years. We will continue to hope for that moment when the lights finally come on for the Azurri and this time stay on – but sadly have to admit we’re not holding our breath as much as we admire their constant fighting spirit in the face of almost permanent adversity.
If you missed last weekend’s action here are the highlights:
Bledisloe 4 (Tri Nations 2)
Australia is in the casualty ward and it would appear, that after three increasingly punishing dates with New Zealand, the patient may not respond to being revived after tomorrow’s match is done and dusted. The Bledisloe Cup is clearly lost for Australia for yet another year, as is the Tri Nations. All that is left in 2020 is a shot at redemption with Argentina, and given their rather shaky start to the year even that could be at risk.
What has gone wrong after such a hopeful start in the rain in Wellington and ended in such abject failure in Sydney in a brutal 43-5 loss to New Zealand? Yes injuries haven’t helped their cause with both fly half James O’Connor and centre Matt Toomua, with the latter unlikely to see action until next year. However, the problem seems to run deeper than that. Scrum half Nic White’s comments at the half time break raised more than a few eyebrows as he seemed unable to grasp how poorly the Wallabies were playing and how well by comparison New Zealand were. He seemed to think all New Zealand’s opportunities had come from Australian errors as opposed to the All Blacks own game plan. While the All Blacks did seize the day several times off the back of Wallaby errors, they also ran rings around the Wallabies in terms of organization and execution. Australia were beyond poor, even if they were slightly more competitive in the second half.
There were two different games going on in Sydney last Saturday. One in which a polished coherent unit in black jerseys with a finely tuned balance of youth and experience tried out a variety of game plans and practiced and honed basic techniques. In the other match a group of individuals in green jerseys undertook an intensive endurance training session. In the first game the players ended on a high and hardly looked out of breath. In the second a team left the field exhausted, confused, clearly humiliated and grappling with the basic concept that one of the key objectives of any sporting contest is to try and put points on the board. In the Coaching box Dave Rennie and his assistants looked in a state of shock at what they were witnessing, and Rennie must surely now be wondering if all the rumors that the Wallaby Coaching job really is the most thankless job in Test Rugby are true.
New Zealand simply built on the momentum gained in Bledisloe 2 and looked like they were genuinely enjoying themselves unlike their opponents. In Australia’s defense they did manage to keep the All Blacks’ latest portable tactical nuclear device, Caleb Clarke, relatively in check, but fly half Richie Mo’unga exploded back onto the Test Rugby scene in one of his best performances to date. New Zealand’s forwards completely dominated the Wallabies pack, while the backs simply ran riot through a defense that seemingly only had eyes for Caleb Clarke. New Zealand are now humming at full throttle and this weekend they look to blood some more terrifying new talent. Without the benefit of trans Tasman competition in Super Rugby this year since March, many of these talents are likely to come as yet another nasty surprise for the Wallabies this Saturday.
Australia’s new bloods while having moments of brilliance simply look wildly out of their depth compared to their All Black counterparts. Your heart had to go out to Wallaby debutant Noah Lolesio, as Richie Mo’unga showed him what a world class fly half looks like, while Wallaby center Ira Simone was left wondering what the role of a center exactly was as New Zealand’s Anton Liennert-Brown and Jack Goodhue alternately weaved and bludgeoned their way through the center channels. Dane Haylett-Petty really had nothing to say at fullback, had a poor kicking game and paled into insignificance as Beauden Barrett placed the ball at will in the Australian half.
Wallaby Captain Michael Hooper, as he always does, attempted to lead from the front but even that seemed ineffective, while Australia’s best prospect of 2020 so far, Harry Wilson in the back row, failed to make an the kind of impact that made us take such notice in Bledisloe 1 and 2. Fellow back rower Ned Hanigan proved to be his usual self as a liability in discipline and execution and the Wallabies incurred penalty after penalty at the breakdowns and in the set pieces.
In short, New Zealand ran the show with almost effortless ease while Australia looked like the marsupials they are named after caught in a road train’s headlights. We struggled to find any positives in this Wallaby performance and it genuinely pains us to say it, and fear that another beating is on the cards this weekend, even if complacency gets the better of New Zealand in the first half. If you’re an Australian supporter you must be beyond frustrated. Australia should not be this woeful and while they may struggle to beat an All Black team clearly gaining a second wind after the World Cup, they should still at least be competitive.
As a result, we imagine that Rennie is likely to focus less on the result and more on the performance of his charges this weekend. Beating New Zealand is unlikely but refining structures and processes that may at least hold their own against a similarly challenged Argentinian side will be the priority on Saturday. The Bledisloe and Tri Nations is a lost cause for Australia in 2020 but two matches to seek redemption against the Pumas is now clearly the end game for this year. If they get their basics right on Saturday, and don’t suffer the same kind of annihilation as they did in Bledisloe 3, then the Wallabies may make the first steps towards a comprehensive rebuild. New Zealand in the meantime will simply show us all that they are still the team to beat, unless their nemesis in blue who are currently rising from the ashes at a rate of knots, decide to once more upset the apple cart in France in 2023.
Enjoy and we’ll be back for the buildup to the Autumn Nations Cup next weekend!