McKenzie’s new game-plan Cummins to fruition

Ireland RU

Australia have put together back-to-back victories for the first time in 2013, and done so in a manner which will make their even harshest critics sit up and take note. In Turin last weekend and Dublin on Saturday night not only did the Wallabies win, but their forward pack competed with, and eventually overcame, what was perceived to be their opponents’ strongest suits. Much maligned in recent months, the pack have stood up on consecutive weekends and provided a platform for their backline colleagues to play the running rugby for which Australia teams have been feted down the years, with winger Nick Cummins crossing the line twice against the Azzuri and scoring the first try against the Irish.

The sight of the Australian tight forwards high-fiving each other, and teammates running from all directions to pat them on the back, as they won yet another scrum penalty will have given as much pleasure to coach Ewen McKenzie as the wins. In Italy they were more than a match for a side which prides itself on its scrummaging over all else; this weekend they fought back from struggling early to making a complete mess of one of the most experienced front rows in world rugby. Michael Hooper’s second try in Dublin, the result of a ten metre rolling maul from an attacking line-out, was the type of forward dominance unimaginable a few weeks ago.

Forward RU

Quade Cooper has profited greatly on the back of the grunt shown by his forwards. Attacking the gain-line, rather than shifting laterally as he had against the All Blacks, Springboks and England, he had a hand in most of the eleven tries the Wallabies have scored in the past fortnight. And when the Irish defenders were so concerned about which way he might pass early in the second half, he was able to scythe through and dot down himself. His sleight of hand and sidestep bemused a highly experienced Ireland defence, and the pace at which the Wallabies attacked made them look likely to score whenever they got deep inside their opponents’ half. Cummins was controversially denied a five-pointer just before Cooper did score, the video referee ruling a knock-on when it appeared the winger had downward pressure on the ball before it squirmed from his grasp.

Alongside the emergence of Cummings as a ruthless finisher at international level, the feature of the Wallabies attack was the brilliant interplay between backs and forwards. Cummins was put into space by a rampaging Stephen Moore for the first try on Saturday, the hooker bobbing up out wide to receive a flat Cooper pass and sprint through the defence before offloading to the winger who cut inside the cover defence and raced to the line; another long Cooper pass found Scott Fardy and the flanker showed both great pace and clever hands, fending off a tackler with his left while offloading to Michael Hooper with his right giving his back row partner a clear run home.

Wallabies RU

Australia’s defence was no less than impressive than their attack. The four to zero try count in the 32-15 victory was testament to their organisation and commitment. Despite the best efforts of Irish legend Brian O’Driscoll and six others who had featured for the British and Irish Lions down here in the winter, the Wallabies kept their line intact. The tackling was ferocious from one to fifteen, and the back row gave Ireland no easy ball at the breakdown: skipper Ben Mowan, Fardy and Hooper showed the depth Australia now have in that area – McKenzie will have a delightful dilemma when previously cast-iron definite starters David Pocock and Scott Higginbotham return to the fold from injury.

Having bagged another try in Italy, Israel Folau was most noticeable on Saturday night for his defensive prowess. Peppered with high balls he was solid as a rock, and invariably returned them with interest, beating the kick-chasers and putting his side back on the front foot. He also made a try-saving tackle early on when the Wallabies were only three-nil in front. His own kicking from the hand can be a little aimless, but otherwise he looks more like a whole-career rugby union veteran than the first year debutant he actually is.

The only downside for the Wallabies was the late red card received by Tevita Kuridrani. There did not appear to be malice in the centre’s actions, but as soon as his tackle resulted in Peter O’Mahony tipping over the horizontal and going to ground head first the sending off was inevitable. He will front an International Rugby Board tribunal this week but is likely to miss the rest of Australia’s spring tour, which sees games in Scotland next Saturday and Wales a week later. Will Genia’s kicking once again got the Wallabies in trouble, one nearly resulting in a charge-down try like the one he conceded at Twickenham, and otherwise giving away hard-won possession. The Team would be far better served if he fires out his quick passes, allowing Cooper or Toomua to clear the lines when required.

Overall this was Australia’s most complete performance of McKenzie’s tenure, and they will go on to Murrayfield next weekend confident they have turned the corner and are now building a side and a game-plan to compete with the world’s best in time for the next World Cup.

Comments

  1. Luke Reynolds says:

    Tim, glad you highlighted Folau’s defensive work, he was outstanding. Loved Cooper’s game too. Couldn’t be more happier with the coaching work of our country’s main 3 coaches, McKenzie, Lehmann and Postecoglou. Can’t help but think these 3 men are tarred with the same brush.

  2. Tim Ladhams says:

    Good point Luke, and McKenzie has just confirmed the levels he expects with his axing of six players for having one too many on the tour. Do you put Tim Sheens in the same bracket as Ewen, Ange and Boof, or did he sweep the Slater thing under the carpet (by all accounts there were other players out & about that evening)….?

  3. 2 wins when they are on the drink. Should be suspending them or getting a brewery sponsorship?
    I have more hope for McKenzie than the other coaches mentioned. His track record with the Reds augurs well.
    We will only expect modest competence from the Socceroos under Ange in the next year, but I fear he is starting from a long way behind and is in a very hard school. Will we have the patience to judge his tenure on 2018 and not the odds and sods he inherits?
    Boof – hope of the hopeless. The fish has been in the sun for too long, so I don’t think the cheese sauce will make for a tasty tuna mornay.

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