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Deans' men undone by problems old and new


Paul Cully

Australia's flanker Radike Samo makes a break. Click for more photos

France trounce Wallabies

French forwards hammer Wallabies in Paris humiliation. Photo: AFP

It will be the infuriating predictability of the Wallabies' loss to France in Paris that sits like acid in the guts of the bleary-eyed loyalists.

It has been the way for the past five years that whenever Australia take one step forward, at least one back promptly follows. Praise, such as was given to the Wallabies after the Argentina and All Blacks games, is akin to cutting off Samson's locks for this outfit. One side was ready for a Test match at the Stade de France, the other was in green in gold.

First, due recognition for the winners. You have to say coach Philippe Saint-Andre played it wonderfully all week. His selections worked beautifully - particularly Maxime Machenaud and Freddie Michalak at No.9 and No.10 - and the smokescreen he put up in the days before the Test appears to have found its way into Australian eyes. France were unfit, poorly prepared and at least a year away from a decent performance, he insisted. Yet one glance at his squad and the quality was apparent. What's more, he sent them out with belief and the message that boldness was to be encouraged.

Impish two-cap fullback Brice Dulin was dancing inside his own 22 within 10 minutes. Short throws were taken at the lineout. They did not all work but it told of the attacking intent. Saint-Andre's work cast a dark shadow over the Australian coaching box.

One incriminating statistic goes to the heart of the Wallabies' effort. They missed a huge number of tackles, 24 all up - or one in every four attempts. The review tape does not discriminate and will be unforgiving viewing for many, including the most experienced man on the paddock.

Twice in the 39th minute build-up to Michalak's drop goal the captain, Nathan Sharpe, badly fell off ball carriers to allow them crucial metres up the middle. It was uncharacteristic but emblematic of a wider malaise. In the 33rd and 44th minutes, back-rowers Louis Picamoles and then Yannick Nyanga simply burst straight through the middle of the ruck and strode 30 metres before being brought down.

Other problems were more familiar. Possession and territory statistics were superficially flattering (59 and 58 per cent in favour of Australia) but this was only proof of a lack of penetration, not control. It is the pattern with which Waratahs fans are only too familiar.

The Wallabies ploughed through the phases, attacking narrowly, and the French were waiting for them. Having watched poor All Blacks discipline work into the Wallabies' hands in Brisbane, the French sat off the ruck and backed their defence to eventually repel the pick-and-drives. Their ability to tackle and then bounce to their feet was exceptional. And when the Wallabies did go wider, the lack of a plan was confounding.

One incident, in the 20th minute, stood out. Playing with the benefit of a penalty advantage after several pick-and-gos close to the French line, Nick Phipps (whose confidence must now be rebuilt after a grim evening) threw a long pass out to Kurtley Beale. If it did not catch Beale by surprise it came pretty close to it, and his back line was similarly out of sync. Not one runner was in position to offer himself as an option, and Beale was promptly gobbled up by Florian Fritz and Michalak, not a known defensive enforcer. If a back line is not even expecting the forwards to give them the ball, the balance is incorrect.

By contrast, when the French had the ball they had the ability to burst into a contact and then offload to support runners, forwards or backs. It is at times like this that the Wallabies can look so badly out of step with the attacking requirements of the modern game at the highest level. All the sharpest hands and aerial skills were on the opposition side. The 33-6 scoreline did not flatter the hosts, especially as the Wallabies were lucky to keep 14 on the field. Rob Simmons's awful tip tackle on Nyanga will attract the most scrutiny, but Tatafu Polota-Nau was fortunate to avoid a spell for cynically coming in from the side to spoil a French raid early in the second half.

The last word must go to the scrum because it will now dominate the build-up for England. It wasn't fit for purpose, and if we were looking for how the new engagement calls might impact the Wallabies, the news is all bad. There were few resets - just four out of 19 scrums - and that might have been down to the shorter sequence as well as referee Nigel Owens's laudable insistence that the front rows were close enough to avoid constant collapses. The result was a reward for France's desire to use the set-piece positively, offensively.

Indeed, for the penalty try, replacement tight-head Vincent Debaty actually lifted Benn Robinson off the ground - he had gone straight down on one knee - and drove him backwards.

England were adequate in beating Fiji, not intimidating, but that piece of vision will be seared into not only their pack's minds but those of 80,000 expectant worshippers at Twickenham.

69 comments so far

  • An abismal performance. Nothing but pick and drive from the forwards and nothing but straight line Mcabe attacks from the backs. If this is the extent of the plays in the Wallabies arsenal then we'll go winless this spring. And how many more highballs are the back 3 going to spill?

    There was some poor referee calls (Dave Dennis being bear-hugged to prevent him defending the blindside for the first try should have been 10 mins in the bin for the French blindside flanker) but the result was never in doubt. England next week will be even tougher. I see a blowout if a few people don't get their heads right in the next few days

    Date and time
    November 12, 2012, 7:30AM
    • It's time that Wallaby fans simply accepted that the Wallabies aren't actually all that good. It's not the coach either. The last winning Wallaby side we had was under Rod MacQueen over a decade ago. Since then it's been the same old predictable "Wobbly" rugby, regardless of the players or the coach. We like to compare ourselves to the All Blacks, but the fact is that if a team like Ireland or Wales got to prepare for them and play them multiple times every year in a real tournament, instead of one-offs at the start or end of their season, they'd probably have the same sort of win ration as we have (about 1 in 14 or something). If we're honest about it, The Wobblies are right up there with Wales and Ireland. Even Scotland have beaten us in both of our last encounters.

      So number #1, the Wobs just aren't as good as we Aussie fans like to believe. No #2, that French side was outstanding. They would have beaten the All Blacks last week with that form. I hope, for the sake of French rugby, that they continue like that, instead of the typical French thing of coming out looking like a different team a week later. It would be awesome to see the French become a real powerhouse in world rugby, instead of just nipping around the edges of the top-3. This team certainly looks like it has what it takes. Definitely deserved the scoreline - if not more - on the weekend. Allez le Bleues!

      Date and time
      November 12, 2012, 8:49AM
    • VPW, your description of France is exactly the same as one might describe the Wallabies. The reality is that the Wallabies, France et al are all inconsistent, which is actually good for world rugby. All Blacks are far and away number one but the 7 or 8 teams below are actually capable of beating each other on any given day. I hate when the Wallabies lose but I much prefer this level of competition we have now over what we see in other sports.

      Date and time
      November 12, 2012, 11:49AM

      Why is our best 2nd rower in his mid 30's???

      Why is one of our No-8's 35+???

      Why is our fly half, our 3rd-4th best choice???

      Why does our inside centre only one dimensional???

      Why isn't anybody looking around for new props???

      Is there anybody looking for new talent???

      I mean who found Tim Horan, Jason Little and Phil Kearns??

      Apart from injuries this is why will end up 5th on the world rankings once this tour is done.

      Romiley Rider
      Date and time
      November 13, 2012, 11:57AM
    • In answer to Romiley Rider, QUESTIONS?? Only one answer mate. NO DEPTH!!!!!!!!!!! Fault lies with the ARU!!!!!!!!

      Date and time
      November 14, 2012, 12:51PM
    • The first French try was a bit dodgy but Dave Dennis over comited in terms of contact with the opposition on a scrum 5 metres from his own line. An experienced blindside would have had one hand and half a shoulder on the scrum. The Wallabies scored a very similar try against the Argentinians on the Gold Coast where Polota Nau held a defender back and the same ref Nigel Owens and the AR missed it so for mine it's swings and roundabouts.
      I have to ask is what was Kurtly Beale doing kicking to open field where Australia had 3 defenders while all the forwards were WALKING back onside to the blindside. It left Michelak and Fofana an almost clear run to the line. That's a mistake you don't even see at u16 schoolboy level in Aus. It typified the "are we there yet" attitude that set in after the first quarter of this game.

      Date and time
      November 15, 2012, 10:48AM
  • How about hooper at 10, seems to me he's made more breaks than Kurtly Beale lately. Given Deans strategy you dont really need to be able to pass to anyone but mccabe anyway. Notice the deafening silence re Beale's performance from the journos. Aussies had > 50% possession and backs led by beale couldnt manufacture anything except for Beales kick creating a try for Les Bleus. Am I unfair, well if quade cooper played like that it would be reported as fact that he was responsible. I guess a poor tour may create momentum for change, unless we scrape a draw against someone. It will be agony to keep watching.

    Date and time
    November 12, 2012, 7:58AM
    • Right on Ben, if Cooper had dished up the same tripe the legions of haters (mainly NSWelshman and NZ ex-pats) would be already furiously condemning him as the worst 5/8 ever (its actually an interesting phenomenon, their need to bring Cooper down borders on obsessive-compulsive in many cases). Beale ran sideways, kicked poorly all night, gave no backline direction and missed key tackles, but he'll get the old 'tried hard without support' pass mark in the wash-up. I don't blame Beale, fullback is his position when fit. And if the coaches keep picking these centre combos, no 5/8 is going to excel. But to keep things in perspective, we had Barnes come on to inject life into the attack by promptly (and repeatedly) kicking the ball back to the French back three, a sure recipe for success.

      Date and time
      November 12, 2012, 8:44AM
    • And here come the Cooper fans, who seem to forget that Cooper had one good season for the Reds, and has done nothing else, except usher opposing players over the tryline instead of tacking them.

      Beale had a terrible game, but the problem is not solely his. McCabe is not a 12, good 13 or winger, but definitely not a 12. Beale works well in broken play, something fullback affords him.

      The backline seemed potent in the last 10 minutes, which was about the time Barnes came on. Strangely enough, for the last two years when Cooper started, the backline didn't seem to work until Barnes came on.

      Date and time
      November 12, 2012, 9:54AM
    • Cooper had one good season for the Reds (rolls eyes)? Maybe, at least he has something on his resume (his last game at Stade Francaise was a 56 point win from memory). Coopers got lots of issues (technically and mentally), but you can't build play-makers, as the ongoing Wallaby 5/8 debacle proves (2-3 tries in total for all the games this season where Beale and Barnes have played at 5/8 this year). And, if you think that backline looked good when Barnes came on, you're dreaming, nothing (jncluding aimless kicking) changed. Don't shift the goalposts with the players available in the backline,either, Cooper has had to work with even less creative centre pairings and backlines than the French game (i.e. McCabe and Faingaa in the World Cup semi last year). If Cooper's supposedly not up to task (maybe he's not), at least be honest enough to level the same standards to his replacements. As well as losing lots of games, they look woeful doing it.

      I just can't believe how quickly the Wallaby backline standard (once our strength) has fallen of late. None of those players on the weekend are even close to the best in the world in their position, many wouldn't even crack the top ten.

      Date and time
      November 12, 2012, 11:05AM

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