Wallabies tackle their way to tough Edinburgh victory

Australia ended a tough week on and off the pitch with a third consecutive victory on their spring tour. Coach Ewen McKenzie showed great courage in risking defeat for the greater long-term good by suspending six players for disciplinary reasons, and was rewarded when the team he did put on the park showed similar courage to tackle themselves to a standstill in earnking a narrow win. The Wallabies kept Scotland try-less and conjured up two five-pointers of their own to ensure Christian Leali’ifano’s uncharacteristically inaccurate display from the kicking tee did not cost them the game.

McKenzie could have taken the pragmatic approach, and dealt with the alcohol-related issues after the tour, to allow himself to put out the strongest possible team. After all, Australia have just regained the winning habit after a chastening few months, and had lost their two previous encounters against the Scots. Add to this the fact that his opposite number on Saturday, Scotland’s Australian coach Scott Johnson, picked two players who are subject to a police investigation into a serious assault last month – the Australian players were not involved in any unsavoury incidents – and it would have been tempting to pick his best available side. Nevertheless McKenzie deemed a late night of drinking in the week of a game counter to the standards he expects, and his actions will surely reinforce the culture in the Wallabies group and help the younger players set parameters for the future.

After such improved efforts up front against Italy and Ireland it was perhaps fortuitous for the coach that none of the miscreants were forwards who started in either game, and he was able to field an unchanged pack. His backline, however, was shorn of its most experienced member, Adam Ashley-Cooper, and the tour’s try-scoring revelation, Nick Cummins. He was also denied the services of Tevita Kuridrani by an International Rugby Board tribunal after the centre’s red card last weekend. Mike Harris came in for his first start of the year at inside centre with Leali’ifano outside him and youngster Chris Feauai-Sautia on the wing. All the newcomers acquitted themselves well, and contributed to the ferocious defence that kept Scotland at bay despite the home side’s superior possession.

The Wallabies overcame tough conditions – a wet ball and a surface that cut up quickly – and missed goal kicks, through their ability to find the try line, and man of the match Israel Folau was yet again their most potent weapon. He scored the opening try of the game after 26 minutes: after Australia had stretched the Scottish defence across the pitch they came back to the right and Quade Cooper spotted a prop in the middle of the backline, he quickly shipped the ball on to Folau who easily rounded the front row forward and strolled to the line.

Early in the second half the same two players combined to create the second try, profiting from another bullocking run by Stephen Moore. As he has done before on this tour, the hooker popped up where players who wear the number two on their shirt are rarely seen, running fast and wide into space. The ball passed through the hands of Folau and Cooper on the way to Feauai-Sautia and the winger was able to score in the corner – a tap tackle brought him to ground short of the line but he was not held, so scrambled back to his feet and across the chalk.

Rob Simmons had an immense game in the second row, making a mess of the Scottish lineout and making numerous tackles, but his sin-binning with half an hour to go gave the hosts renewed hope. To this point their kicker Greig Laidlaw was four from four and was successful again from the penalty that saw Simmons get his sanction, to cut the Wallabies’ lead to only three points. Committed defence, however, made up for the ten minutes the Wallabies had to cope with one less player and kept the marauding Scots out. Captain Ben Mowen and John Eales medallist Michael Hooper led the resistance, forcing turnovers and cutting down Scottish raiders before they reached the gain line. Leali’ifano was able to compose himself and put earlier misses out of his mind when given another opportunity on the hour, making the score 21-15. The previously impervious Laidlaw then felt the pressure and missed a penalty, and there was no further scoring despite a frenetic finish.

McKenzie will have a full squad to pick from for the final leg of the tour in Cardiff this coming weekend, with the exception of Kuridrani whose IRB suspension will see him out of rugby for five weeks. A number of the players the coach omitted this week are likely to return but the efforts of their replacements at Murrayfield will give him an enjoyable selection conundrum this weekend, as well as confidence that he is getting some depth in his squad. Wales will be a tough proposition in front of a fanatical crowd at the Millenium Stadium, but the Wallabies have a chance to finish the tour, and the year, on a real high.

Comments

  1. Good one Tim.
    It seems we have documentary evidence to support the proposition that forwards are the smartest of all rugby players.
    I think rather than ‘fortuitous’ that no forwards were among those to transgress the team rules, it simply and clearly offers irrefutable evidence.
    Good to have the wallabies winning again. But even better to have that the case under the auspices of cultural reform.

  2. Very interesting point – when I was playing (to a very mediocre level and a long time a go, but that’s another story) there was a song that ended “….it’s the backs that take the glory, the forwards get the blame”. On the basis of your astute observation, perhaps the tide has turned….

    Absolute belter this weekend – ten Lions in the Welsh team, the battle between Fardy/Hooper/Mowen and Lydiate/Warburton/Faletau at the breakdown will be massive.

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